Following weeks of high-profile criticism from Beijing, Legco president Andrew Leung on Friday removed a pan-democratic lawmaker who has presided over months of paralysis at the council’s influential House Committee and replaced him with a pro-establishment councillor.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok has been presiding over the agenda-setting committee since October, which still has yet to elect a chair.
Leung said Kwok will now be removed from presiding over the election, and appointed Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por to take over, and oversee the election of a chairperson next week.
Leung said he's invoking his power under article 92 of the council’s rules of procedure to deal with the current impasse after seeking legal advice from Queen's Counsel Lord Pannick and counsel Anthony Chan.
The article states that in any matter not expressly provided for under house rules, the president has the power to decide what to do.
The lawyers had concluded that “The president has a duty, as a matter of constitutional obligation… to act to ensure that Legco can perform its constitutional functions under the Basic Law which are currently being frustrated by filibustering (which Legco members have no constitutional right to carry out).”
The Legco chief said the election will be held on Monday 11am, and no points of order will be accepted.
A separate set of advice from two senior local lawyers had earlier concluded that the panel's former chair, DAB leader Starry Lee, should take control of the committee.
Leung defended the unprecedented move, saying "If I can see other ways, why would I take legal advice from two senior counsels, one QC and one counsel, ok? If I could do it easily, I would certainly take the easy way out."
"This is a hard decision, and I think it’s incumbent upon me to take a decision to make sure that we can, as the legislature – on the whole – to fulfill our responsibility under the Basic Law," Leung said.
He also explained that he had picked Chan to replace Kwok because of his experience in chairing the Finance Committee.
"Finance Committee has the same membership [as] the House Committee, of which all members except myself are members, so I think he has the experience of presiding that same size committee, so I believe he can play the part", he said.
Chan himself said he would comply with the President's request to preside over the election of a new House Committee without allowing any questions on rules or procedures.
But he declined to say whether he thought he was suitable to take up the role.
"Whether [Leung] has made the right choice, I think it is up to the Hong Kong citizens to make their judgement", he said.
Kwok has been coming under increasing pressure in recent weeks, with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office accusing him of intentionally stalling the election of a chairperson and holding up important bills. It also suggested that he was guilty of misconduct in public office.
Legco saw drawn out clashes during the committee’s meeting last Friday under the DAB’s Starry Lee, who declared that she was in charge as the past chair from the previous year.
Scuffles broke out between lawmakers and security staff, after Lee beat Kwok to physically occupy the chairperson’s seat. Two opposition lawmakers were hospitalised after the chaos.
Chan said he expects more of the same next week.
"Of course I expect there’ll be a lot of chaos, but I hope they will be more reasonable. They should argue with the chairman on legal points, rather than using all these bodily attacks or chaos, so I really hope that no one would be hurt on Monday", Leung said.
Last updated: 2020-05-15 HKT 13:00