Pro-establishment camp seizes control of bills committee scrutinising HK’s controversial extradition law

07-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s pro-establishment bloc has regained the upper hand in pushing for a new extradition law, after the controversial ousting of a pan-democrat who played a key role in the opposition’s filibustering effort.

Lawmakers voted on Monday, despite strong protests from the pro-democracy camp, to unseat veteran lawmaker James To Kun-sun from chairing the bills committee that is scrutinising the law. To was replaced by pro-establishment lawmaker Abraham Razack, a move made official at noon on Monday.

The government’s contentious bill, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to places it lacks a formal extradition agreement with, including mainland China and Taiwan, triggered new tensions and disputes in the Legislative Council.

Officials had stressed the urgency of passing the bill in time to extradite Hongkonger Chan Tong-kai, 20. Chan is wanted in Taiwan for the murder of his girlfriend and was jailed for 29 months on a related money-laundering charge by the High Court last week. He could be released as early as October on account of time already served in prison and other deductions, leaving him free to leave Hong Kong and possibly escape extradition.

Shortly after the results were confirmed to oust To, Razack assumed his power as chair and adjourned a meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon, the Post exclusively reported.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the move was intended to avoid direct confrontation with the pan-democrats, after To said he would not recognise the results.

The new chair decided to postpone the meeting till May 11, although the pan-democrats said it should still take place as scheduled.

Razack explained his newly acquired power allowed him to trump the previous scheduling of the meeting.

“Now a new meeting date has been picked, this afternoon’s meeting, which was decided by former presiding member James To, is irrelevant,” he said.

Pressed on the urgent nature of the extradition bill, Razack said he was only complying with the procedural rule on new meetings, which stated there must be at least three days’ prior notice.

“Time is not of the essence to me, time is to do what is necessary,” he said.

But Democratic Party lawmaker To said he would press ahead with the Monday meeting at 4.30pm, saying that lawmakers could still proceed with electing a chair for the committee.

“If a chair can be elected, it is up to that person to schedule the next meeting with the government,” To said.

The committee was due to meet for the third time on Monday afternoon, having yet to elect a chair.

On Saturday, the House Committee issued a non-binding guideline for To, the most senior legislator, to be replaced by Razack, the third most senior, after the pan-democrat camp filibustered and stalled the election of the bills committee chair in April.

This was followed by the non-partisan secretariat of Legco issuing a circular to 62 members of the bills committee to vote by circulation on whether to adopt the non-binding motion. This was made without To’s approval. A vote by circulation allows lawmakers to indicate a preference in writing to the secretariat, without convening a formal meeting.

To argued that the House Committee’s guideline was invalid according to committee rules, as 23 lawmakers had written to oppose settling the matter of unseating him by a paper resolution.

“Even an elected chair cannot circulate to the members, and issue invitations for a paper resolution if one of the members is opposed to using the method,” To said, insisting he was still the rightful presiding member.

Despite the Legco secretariat, which circulated the guideline, not recognising the meeting, To said he would still preside over it, if enough lawmakers turned up.

According to Legco rules, one-third of the 61-strong bills committee must be present to form a quorum.

To also said he would probably pass on his right to preside to the second most senior member of the committee, pro-democracy camp lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, citing a possible conflict of interest with the House Committee guideline to unseat him.

To said that the rules state that one lawmaker dissenting against the House Committee’s guideline could trigger a formal discussion during the meeting, instead of making a decision by circulation.


Category: Hong Kong

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