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China's 'Two Sessions' 2016

Hong Kong’s envoys to the nation have a duty to uphold the Basic Law, not trash it

Alice Wu says Maria Tam’s comment suggesting Leung Chun-ying’s term of office should be extended runs counter to the Basic Law that she, as a local deputy to the NPC, ought to be protecting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2016, 8:00am

The annual liang hui – “Two Sessions” – has always carried an air of political mystique. It is inevitably so, perhaps, under “one country, two systems”, in which well water is not to mix with river water. So most Hongkongers are left at the periphery, a fact that is most pronounced during liang hui. Over the years, the occasion has become, for Hong Kong, open season for the practise of political “tasseography” – the reading of political tea leaves requiring interpretation and speculation in equal measure.

The masses are alienated. The “mediums” that connect the two systems in the one country are the Hong Kong delegates of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and deputies to the National People’s Congress. They’re privy to what our national decision-makers think. In return, they offer up their thoughts on Hong Kong. We, of course, have no control over what they say, and we don’t get to judge whether what they do say actually makes Hong Kong better understood or increasingly misunderstood.

READ MORE: Chair change shows Hong Kong deputies no longer in the driving seat at National People’s Congress

For months, we have been concerned over the deteriorating relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland. The people’s confidence in “one country, two systems” is at its lowest point since pre-1997.

So, it was shocking to hear one veteran local NPC deputy, Maria Tam Wai-chu, say that it would be damaging to change our government and “form a new cabinet every five years”. “Unless the chief executive commits a criminal offence, the most ideal is to let him continue with the policy he proposed,” she went on.

This kind of talk does not help Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying one bit. She basically botched Leung’s re-election bid, assuming he intends to seek a second term.

Of course, it is unfair to lay blame for everything – social discontent, social unrest, the emergence of localism – entirely on Leung. Rational individuals would see it is unfair. But it was preposterous of Tam to suggest that it would be OK to extend the chief executive’s term so there is no need for a re-election, unless the office holder has committed a crime.

NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江) was reported to have told CPPCC delegates to safeguard the city’s rule of law. What this local deputy to the NPC did, however, is suggest that we disregard the Basic Law or twist it to our liking, as she has done.

Article 46 clearly says that the chief executive’s term of office is five years, and the office has a two-term limit. To suggest that a change of government every five years is no good is to suggest that Article 46 of our Basic Law is no good, either. We are talking about the legal apparatus that guarantees our freedoms and rights, and spells out what “one country, two systems” means in real-life terms. To give the chief executive more time to carry out his or her policies, should we really reinterpret, strike out, or twist the Basic Law?

READ MORE: Beijing may consider alternative candidates in 2017 Hong Kong chief executive poll, says NPC heavyweight Rita Fan

I hope that Leung and leaders in Beijing found that sort of talk insulting. It is a prime example of how a “medium” can make bad situations worse. The liang hui are not meant to be a time for idle gossip or, worse yet, talking through one’s hat. At this year’s sessions, at least one person made a complete mockery of “one country, two systems” – at a time when local representatives to the country’s main political platform should be thinking hard about how they can bridge divides, foster better understanding and work towards building people’s confidence in “one country, two cystems” again.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA