23 October 2016
Lawmaker Alan Leong (left) says accepting the government's election reform proposal will give free rein to the central government to further violate the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ
Lawmaker Alan Leong (left) says accepting the government's election reform proposal will give free rein to the central government to further violate the Basic Law. Photo: HKEJ

How can Hong Kong people go on with Beijing’s humiliation?

With the official publication of the political reform package by the Hong Kong government, a package that is restrained by the resolution of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee of 31 August 2014 (NPCSC Decision), I would like to take this opportunity to lay out, in general, why we pan-democrats are adamant in vetoing it.

Firstly, one of the issues that have been identified with the deep-seated conflict haunting Hong Kong and the current incompetent government is the rent-seeking behavior and cronyism in the system.

Rent-seeking is to create greater wealth for oneself by manipulating the political environment. Such rent-seeking exists in the government systemically, with a small number of corporate interests represented disproportionally in the previous election committee and the future nominating committee for the chief executive election as well as within the functional constituencies of the Legislative Council.

When the government is accountable to these small groups of special interests, policies become tilted towards them and public good ends up being sacrificed. The rich become richer while the poor become poorer in the current system, a fact epitomized by the city’s ever-rising Gini coefficient, which in 2011 was at 0.537, the highest among developed economies.

Along with rent-seeking is cronyism in the government. Since Leung Chun-ying’s rise to power in 2012, we see that official posts are used mainly to reward his supporters.

Nick Yang’s appointment to the Executive Council and as chairman of the previously non-existent Advisory Committee on Innovation and Technology is only one of the many contentious appointments. The chief executive has the power to appoint officials to various governmental positions, including statutory bodies and consultative committees, and this allows him to establish a form of spoils system that rewards those who support him, and in extension those who support the central government.

Secondly, to submit to the NPCSC Decision is to accept the encroachment of the Central People’s Government (CPG) on the principles of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy” granted under the Basic Law. Hong Kong’s democratic development was promised during the drafting of the Basic Law to allay our worries that we could no longer keep our values and institutions after reversion to a sovereign that practices people democratic dictatorship and communism.

“… How Hong Kong develops democracy in the future is a matter entirely within the sphere of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the central government cannot intervene,” People’s Daily quoted Lu Ping, head of the Chinese delegation in the handover talks, as saying in 1993. [reference]

Legislation of Article 23

Yet, since the handover, we have seen that the CPG has shown a lack of respect for the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the original intent of the Basic Law. Hong Kong was first promised universal suffrage of the chief executive and the legislature in 2007/08, yet with the interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPCSC in 2004, that was denied.

There was then bipartisan and overwhelming public support for universal suffrage in 2012; that was also struck down by the NPC in 2007. Now, in 2017, we are offered an unsatisfactory, counterfeit vote that Hong Kong people are being forced to accept with a knife to our back with various threats such as the legislation of Article 23 and the re-election of C.Y. Leung in 2017.

Furthermore, the NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law did not legally allow for the elaborate restrictions set in place by the NPCSC Decision that has since been upheld numerous times as “immovable”. The NPCSC Decision is a clear demonstration of an attempt to interfere with Hong Kong’s domestic policies that it has the right to administer.

By bowing down to the current proposal, we will be giving free rein to the CPG to disregard and violate the Basic Law whenever it sees fit. If we do not hold on fast to our position of vetoing the reforms, rule of law in Hong Kong will be replaced with rule by law with Chinese characteristics. Only by safeguarding the rule of law in Hong Kong can we secure the civil liberties that we are enjoying and ensure that they would not vanish overnight.

Thirdly, we have to consider the consequences of what may happen if we accept the current proposal. By endorsing the reforms, we will be giving the CPG the perfect excuse to announce to the world that it has handed in its homework on fulfilling its constitutional responsibility.

As long as the NPCSC Decision remains in place, there will be neither room nor incentive for substantive improvements in the future. All candidates who manage to pass through screening by the nominating committee and enter the public round of voting will, without a doubt, be accountable to the CPG, thus the Chinese Communist Party, and the rent seekers who dominate the nominating committee.

A step of no return

Any form of allegiance to the Hong Kong people will only be subservient to that proposition and only when it does not conflict with those special interests. The next chief executive will have the false legitimacy to blatantly override half of the legislature that is freely elected in order to enact the will of those groups. It is a step of no return; a privilege that once entrenched, will be most difficult, if not impossible, to take back.

Some may say that we should have faith in the central government to further improve the elections once accepted. However, believing in the goodwill of the CPG is a naïve mistake without CPG now doing anything extra to convince us that it will move away from its previous course of wrongful interference with our autonomy promised by the Basic Law.

In Article 158 of the Basic Law, the NPCSC holds the power to interpret the Basic Law; yet the act of seeking an interpretation from the NPCSC was promised by CPG only to be made through the Court of Final Appeal. Thus, Hong Kong’s judiciary theoretically holds the final say in making such a decision.

In reality, however, the NPCSC has interpreted the Basic Law four times since the handover, and only in the fourth time in 2011 was the interpretation done through the Court of Final Appeal. In 2004, the NPCSC actively interpreted the Basic Law without prior notice in which it ruled out universal suffrage for 2007 and added two extra steps for the chief executive electoral reforms. The two steps passed the power to initiate the political reforms from the Hong Kong legislature to the executive and the NPCSC.

When one could not even trust the CPG on solemn, black-and-white articles within a constitution, how could one put “faith” in its goodwill in promoting democratic development in Hong Kong?

I believe that many citizens who would like the pan-democrats to accept the reforms have decided so out of a sense of misguided pragmatism and the sense of futility in resisting the CPG. Yet, the Umbrella Movement was a euphoric moment that has demonstrated the power of Hong Kong’s civil society and has shone light on a way out in this David versus Goliath struggle to protect the way of life in Hong Kong.

If Hong Kong people would like to safeguard their existing freedoms and institutions, we have to take a stand against such humiliation in the form of the NPCSC Decision by the CPG. Hong Kong is an intelligent and mature society that deserves a genuine choice.

I believe it is not democracy, but the lack of it, that will be the source of much turmoil in the upcoming years. It is now up to President Xi Jinping to show the world that China is fit to be called a dignified world leader by honoring the Sino-British Joint Declaration and respecting the wishes of Hong Kong people.

And while democracy is far from perfect, to quote Winston Churchill, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

– Contact us at [email protected] 


member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council; leader of the Civic Party

EJI Weekly Newsletter