The first day of the Hong Kong legislature’s marathon debate on changes to its rule book descended into chaos on Thursday evening as the opposition pan-democrats staged a protest in the chamber and refused to return to their seats.
The turbulence came a day after pan-democratic convenor Charles Mok vowed to block the camp’s political rivals from amending the rules, arguing the changes would pave the way for the government to “bulldoze draconian legislation” through the lawmaking body.
The controversial amendments were proposed by pro-establishment lawmakers to curb the delaying tactics of pan-democrats to block bills or motions they disagree with. Some of the pan-democrats’ proposed amendment to the rules were also approved by Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.
The meeting was adjourned at about 7.50pm, and was to continue next Wednesday.
Speaking to the press after the meeting, Leung said the meeting had been proceeding “unsatisfactorily” and that he had tried to be tolerant.
But he noted the protesting lawmakers’ acts might have breached the Legislative Council (Powers and Privilege) Ordinance.
Asked if he would call police should the pan democrats stage protests inside chamber to obstruct the meeting, Leung said: “As the Legco president, I would not call police. I would not like to see some members caught in legal proceedings because of their acts in the chamber.
“But I cannot rule out that someone else might report what happened to police,” he added.
Leung explained security guards had been acting on his advice when they carried away some of the protesting lawmakers back to their seats after they repeatedly ignored his orders and warnings.
As the debate kicked off on Thursday morning, the pan-democrats took turns questioning Leung’s decision earlier this week that there would only be one 30-hour debate on all the changes, instead of separate debates for different amendments.
As pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun was explaining the reason behind his amendments, the pan-democrats staged their first protest of the day by shouting slogans and leaving their seats. The meeting was suspended for about two and a half hours.
At 6.20pm, they staged another protest by chanting slogans and gathering near the president’s podium.
“Amend the rules of procedure today, tomorrow they will legislate Article 23!” they shouted, referring to the article in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, under which the city must enact its own national security law.
Local officials shelved the Article 23 bill in 2003 after half a million people took to the streets to oppose it, but Beijing officials and pro-Beijing politicians have been calling for it to be revived.
The meeting was then suspended a second time.
Although the pan-democrats refused to return to their seats,Leungresumed the meeting at about 6.50pm.
When the Legco president reminded Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin it was his floor time, Wan said: “You’re supposed to handle the order of the meeting. How can I continue to give my speech under these circumstances? This is ridiculous.”
Leung eventually suspended the meeting for a third time. He resumed it about 20 minutes later.
At one point, several pan-democrats sat on the floor in front of Leung’s desk, ignoring his repeated warnings to return to their seats. At least two – Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen – were carried away by Legco security officers.
Others eventually relented and ended the sit-in.
Speaking to the press outside the chamber, Executive Councillor and lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the acts by the protesting pan-democrats might have breached the Legco powers and privilege ordinance.
“It could be a criminal offence to obstruct a council meeting,” he said. “We hope the Legco president makes an appropriate decision on this matter.”
Outside the Legco building, some 300 people rallied to protest against the amendments to the Legco meeting rules.
Pan-democrats took turns addressing the attendees, vowing to use whatever means necessary to block the rules changes.
Mok rejected Leung’s warning that the ordinance had been breached.
“I did not see anyone obstructing the proceeding,” the lawmakers told the crowd. “The meeting did continue while some were sitting on the floor.”
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai described the road ahead for the camp as “very difficult”.
“We will have to think carefully our next step.”
In recent years, the pan-democratic camp has resorted to delaying tactics, such as calling quorum counts, making long speeches, and tabling stacks of amendments. These have resulted in proceedings grinding to a halt or meetings dragging on longer than their rivals or government officials would expect.
The pro-establishment camp is set to move 24 proposals to amend the rule book, with pan-democrat lawmakers unlikely to be able to block the amendments.