Pro-Beijing lawmakers have tried to oust democrat James To in a bid to regain the upper hand at the legislative process of Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill.
The House Committee – which is in charge of the legislature’s internal matters – voted to issue guidelines replacing To with lawmaker Abraham Shek from the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance.
To had been presiding over the bills committee responsible for vetting the government’s proposal to revamp Hong Kong’s extradition laws. The pro-Beijing camp accused To of delaying the election of the committee’s formal leadership, which made discussion of substantive issues impossible.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously asked the legislature to pass the extradition bill by summer, but democrats have expressed dissatisfaction about the bill’s content as well as the government’s tactics. The bills committee has held two meetings – totalling four hours – over the course of a month.
On Saturday, the House Committee convened an emergency meeting to address whether To should continue in his role. Before a formal chairperson is elected for a bills committee, it is common practice for the meeting to be led by the most senior lawmaker present.
Lawmakers voted 37-19 to oust To, following a rowdy four-and-a-half-hour meeting that was interrupted multiple times.
However, democrats have said that the guidelines were non-binding and that they will not observe them at the next meeting of the bills committee, scheduled for Monday.
“They are using the ‘tyranny of the majority’… they are providing ammunition to us, because there are a lot of things within these guidelines we will discuss on Monday,” said pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo.
“The pro-Beijing camp lawmakers are basically trying to dictate Legco,” Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung added.
Connie Fung, the legislature’s legal advisor, said it was up to the bills committee to decide how to interpret the guidelines. Fung added that there were no formal rules on whether the most senior lawmaker will continue to preside over the meeting.
DAB lawmaker Starry Lee, who chaired Saturday’s meeting, drew the ire of democrats by limiting each lawmaker’s speaking time. After facing strong opposition, she ejected lawmakers Claudia Mo, Gary Fan, Wu Chi-wai and Ted Hui.
Lee said the pro-Beijing camp’s actions were “within the rules of the legislature,” and defended her decision to expedite the meeting.
Outside the legislature, over a hundred protesters gathered to watch a live-stream of the meeting. Most attendees showed up in support of the pro-democracy camp, and booed pro-Beijing lawmakers when they spoke.
The legislature’s secretariat was criticised by the rally’s organiser after it asked for a TV wall to be taken down over security concerns.
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