Beijing pulls Legco seats punch

Top News | 12 Aug 2020

Michael Shum

All incumbent lawmakers can stay on without needing to retake their oaths during the one-year transition of the Legislative Council, the National People's Congress standing committee said.

The NPCSC unanimously voted yesterday in favor of extending the terms of all existing lawmakers for at least a year to cover the vacuum in the legislature stemming from the postponement of the Legco elections to September 5 next year.

"After September 30, the sixth term of Legco (the current term) will continue to discharge its duties for at least a year until the start of the seventh term," it said in a statement.

It said the terms of all lawmakers elected in the next Legco election will remain for four years.

Contrary to earlier reports Beijing would take a hard line, the NPCSC decision will allow four pro-democracy lawmakers to retain their seats despite being disqualified from the now-postponed polls for the next council in the most moderate option among those proposed by the pro-establishment camp.

Observers believe Beijing wants to take a more compromising approach.

The four are the accounting sector's Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong, the legal sector's Dennis Kwok Wing-hang and the Civic Party's Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Kwok Ka-ki - all elected to the 70-strong legislature in 2016.

Some pro-establishment politicians earlier suggested that the four lawmakers should not have their terms extended. Others even proposed more pro-democracy lawmakers should not be allowed to stay on.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor relayed the NPCSC's decision to Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.

Leung said he welcomed it, adding lawmakers should not be required to take their oaths a second time. "It is just the same as transitioning from the second year to the third, and the third to the fourth," he said.

"Therefore, members should not need to retake their oaths in accordance with the law.

"The decision is simply allowing the sixth term of the legislature to continue operating for at least a year. Therefore, the first meeting will be in mid-October, and the chairman and vice chairman of panels will have to be reelected like in the past."

The election of the house committee chairman was at the center of filibustering in October last year.

Leung asked lawmakers to make Hongkongers' well-being their first priority.

Lam said she will gazette the NPCSC decision and cancel the gazetted decision to end the current term of the legislature shortly, allowing Legco to resume operation as soon as possible.

NPC member Wong Kwan-yu, who sat in the meeting as an observer, said: "If the Legco elections have to be further postponed, current lawmakers will continue executing their duties."

Other observers of the meeting added that other issues that arose in the future would be decided by the SAR government or Legco, including how to fill the positions of lawmakers if they opt to resign.

Sources within the political circle explained that the main point of the decision was the word "extend."

As the four lawmakers were only disqualified from running for reelection, they are still incumbent lawmakers and their terms can still be extended.

"The four, although disqualified from seeking reelection, can only be unseated after they are convicted of criminal offenses, handed a jail sentence for over a month and voted out by two-thirds of lawmakers," said a source.

Meanwhile, the 22 pro-democracy lawmakers have yet to decide whether they will stay on.

In a joint statement, they said the camp will decide on their next step after taking into consideration public sentiment.

They said extending the current term by a year breached the Basic Law, as the mini-constitution says every legislature's term shall be four years.

The legislature will be operating in its fifth year without public mandate.

"We reiterate that we oppose a postponement of the Legco elections, and the vacuum in the legislature stems from a constitutional loophole created by the SAR government itself," they said.

"Therefore, asking for a decision by the NPCSC was totally unnecessary."

Earlier yesterday, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said his supporters wanted the pro-democracy camp to stay on during the year as they said boycotting Legco would leave it without any voice of opposition.

"There are only two options before us. If we opt not to stay in Legco, the legislature will be completely without the voice of the opposition," To said.

"At the moment, I hear more voices saying that all pro-democracy lawmakers should stay on during the one-year transition."

As in each year, panels and certain committees will again have to reelect heir chairmen and vice chairmen.

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