Hong Kong lawmakers clash as pro-Beijing camp elects chair

The legislature’s House Committee, which vets bills and decides when to present them for a final vote, had been without a chairperson for more than six months. The central government in Beijing criticized deputy chairperson and pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok for deliberately delaying matters and causing a backlog of bills that affect public interest. Mr. Kwok was replaced on May 15 by Chan Kin-por, who was appointed by the legislature’s president to preside over the election on May 18. After scuffles and shouting matches, leading to Mr. Chan ejecting most of the pro-democracy lawmakers, the election took place with pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee winning easily. At the meeting on May 18, pro-democracy lawmakers held up placards that read “Abuse of Power” and “CCP tramples HK legislature,” referring to China’s ruling Communist Party. Within minutes, at least five lawmakers were ejected for disorderly behaviour, with at least one lying injured on the ground as the meeting was briefly suspended. “Hong Kong is marching towards the beginning of the end of ‘one country, two systems’,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo after the meeting ended. The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under a one country, two systems framework that gives Hong Kong its own legal system and greater rights than in the mainland. Ms. Mo urged the Hong Kong people to vote out those who “don’t care about Hong Kong’s future” in the legislative elections in September. Pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan accused security guards of Hong Kong’s legislature of “losing their impartiality,” after the security guards surrounded the bench where the chairperson was seated and prevented pro-democracy lawmakers from getting close. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Martin Liao said the opposition camp had “assaulted some of the security officers,” and disrupted “legitimate” election proceedings. Lawmakers clashed over the same issue on May 8, when Ms. Lee occupied the chairperson’s seat more than an hour before the meeting was scheduled to start, saying that external legal counsel had advised that she had the power to preside over House Committee meetings. Pro-democracy lawmakers accused her of abusing her power and staged a walkout, leaving Ms. Lee and the pro-Beijing camp to clear several bills. Also, on May 18, 15 pro-democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, appeared in court to face charges relating to anti-government protests last year over a controversial extradition bill that has since been withdrawn. The bill would have allowed residents of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to be sent to mainland to stand trial and sparked months of protests.

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