Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Equality chief says UN rules for free elections must be met

First day in job sees York Chow tackle Basic Law heavyweight over meaning of universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 4:36am

The new chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission believes Hong Kong will have to meet international standards for democratic elections as well as the Basic Law when universal suffrage is introduced.

On his first day in the job yesterday, Dr York Chow Yat-ngok appeared to take on Basic Law Committee heavyweight Maria Tam Wai-chu, who said that the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did not apply to Hong Kong as the British had chosen to exempt the city when it came into effect in 1976.

Article 25(b) of the covenant states: "Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity ... to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage."

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity ... to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage
Dr York Chow Yat-ngok

Tam said that for Hong Kong, universal suffrage meant only the right to vote had to be universal, not the right to nominate a candidate or stand for election.

Chow countered: "We were exempted because there was no universal suffrage then … If universal suffrage is introduced in Hong Kong, I believe we have to meet [the standards in] this treaty, or the criteria committed in the Basic Law. I believe we have to do so."

But when pressed to clarify whether he believes a citizen's right to stand for election must be universal as well, he declined to comment. Political reforms must be introduced as stipulated in the Basic Law, he added.

Article 45 of the Basic Law talks of "the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

Legal experts and pro-democracy activists, including Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, criticised Tam for "misunderstanding" the international covenant, and "twisting facts" regarding people's political rights.

Tam's remarks came after Qiao Xiaoyang, the new chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee and the mainland's top authority on Hong Kong's mini-constitution, hinted at introducing a screening mechanism ahead of the chief executive election in 2017.

In a radio interview yesterday, Chow also weighed into the controversy over the restrictions on taking milk formula for infants out of the city.

He suggested that the administration should review the new rules which sparked an outcry when 12 mainland visitors who had bought instant cereal for babies were wrongly arrested.

"It is not good … for any policy to cause more friction between tourists and residents in Hong Kong," Chow said. "Hong Kong is a free place which allows people to visit and shop, but at the same time we have to protect the need of Hongkongers."