The head of the legislature is mulling two options to kill filibusters launched by radical lawmakers so as to cut short the delay in the approval of the budget.
The Legislative Council began deliberations on Wednesday on 710 amendments to the proposed budget that were expected to take up 148 debate sessions.
Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing (pictured) said that a week before a yet-to-be-defined deadline, he might merge all remaining debates into one session, or impose a limit on how long each session could last.
Tsang, sharing his thoughts with the South China Morning Post yesterday, dismissed fears that such actions were tantamount to doing the government’s bidding.
There was no better solution, he said, because it was unlikely the government would heed the demand of the radicals even if he did not kill their filibusters.
“It is difficult to dispute that filibustering is a weapon for the minority to wrestle with the government, but you have to strike a balance,” he said. “In this case, I cannot see the possibility of the lawmakers succeeding in forcing the government to give in to their demands.”
He pledged to listen to legislators’ opinions before making a decision.
Four lawmakers from People Power and the League of Social Democrats launched the filibusters to protest at the omission of a universal pensions scheme from the budget.
The resulting marathon debates ended the third day yesterday without concluding the second session – discussions on Executive Council funds. The session will continue on Monday.
On April 19, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung wrote to Tsang urging Legco to pass the budget bill by the middle of next month. He said any undue delay in its passage “is clearly not in the public interest”.
In the Post interview, Tsang suggested he might consider a debate merger.
“If I have no other choice in the end, I will have to set a date, and I will notify all the lawmakers in advance,” he said. “For example, [I will tell them] we have only a week left … and then we will have to start voting.
“This will be a final debate on everything. This is a possibility.”
Another possibility was to impose a time limit. “If there are more than 100 debates to go and we have about 100 hours left, I might suggest [limiting] each debate to one hour, then I won’t need to merge everything.”
But if most of the legislators resisted killing the filibusters, he would consider letting the debates continue. “I don’t mind and the government cannot pressurise me,” Tsang said.
He admitted that his options were not prescribed in legislature rules but the Basic Law gave the Legco president the power and responsibility to decide on the time of meetings.
An interim fund of HK$75.5 billion will sustain spending into next month, and pan-democrats have suggested the administration could table a second interim fund. But Tsang said another “stopgap measure” meant the government could forget about winning budget approval.