Need for calm over 'referendum' planeditorial

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2010, 12:00am

The resignation plan by five democrat lawmakers was, with good reason, widely regarded as an ill-conceived political stunt when it was first proposed. That has all changed as a result of Beijing's warning that the scheme breaches the Basic Law.

The ensuing row has the potential to turn into a constitutional crisis - and so it is time for all concerned to calm down and for the law to be allowed to prevail.

A statement issued by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office raised the stakes earlier this month. It described the planned resignation by legislators to trigger by-elections in a 'referendum' on universal suffrage as a blatant challenge to the Basic Law and the authority of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

The resignation plan, however it is described, is not a referendum and does not breach Legco's procedures, election laws or the Basic Law. Legislators are entitled to resign, whatever their motivation.

And when they do, by-elections must be held. Attempts to prevent those legislators from standing in the by-elections would seem to be a breach of their rights under the Basic Law. The elections, therefore, should be allowed to proceed.

It will then be up to the Beijing-loyalist camp to decide whether or not it wishes to field candidates.

The only sensible course of action is for the by-elections to go ahead in accordance with Hong Kong's laws. But if attempts are made to block the plan, the damage done to the rule of law could be long-lasting.

Let the by-elections proceed and then, perhaps, we can finally get on with a serious debate about how to push forward democratic reform.

This is an edited version of the Leader published in yesterday's South China Morning Post