Hong Kong Basic Law

Beijing-backed law don: Let voters recommend candidates for chief executive

Member of state-appointed Basic Law Committee differs from liaison office chief's claim that people's poll may breach rules

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 5:59pm

A Beijing-appointed legal scholar on the Basic Law has spoken up in favour of letting voters recommend possible candidates for the 2017 chief executive race, saying it may not be contrary to the city's mini-constitution.

Albert Chen Hung-yee, a University of Hong Kong professor who serves on the Basic Law Committee under the state legislature, differed from the chief of the central government's liaison office, who said the idea was against the Basic Law.

Separately, the university's law dean, Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, said that when it comes to its power to reject a winning candidate, Beijing should adopt similar rules to how it handles new laws in the city.

The two are the latest to speak on electoral reform amid debate on letting civil nomination precede the work of a nominating committee - which democracy advocates have criticised would mean a "small circle" selection.

"Any nomination procedure that allows civil participation shall respect the ultimate power of the nominating committee to make decisions," Chen said in an interview hosted by Democrat lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing.

"Without violating this principle, there is much room for civilians and social groups to take part in the process that produces the possible candidates."

He said there was "plenty of room" for such an arrangement, so long as the committee held "substantial power" to select which recommendations would become formal candidates.

The selection could take the form of subjecting each candidate to a vote of approval, he said.

Chen's idea contrasts with democracy advocates' hopes that people who collected a sufficient number of civil nominations would automatically be accepted by the committee.

Last week, liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming shot down the idea of civil nomination, saying it "neglects requirements stated in the Basic Law".

Chen, who sits on the Basic Law Committee under the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said he believed what Beijing rejected was the version of civil nomination as put forward by those advocates.

He said people of different political leanings could join the race "once the public recognise the central government's right to appoint" as chief executive an eligible candidate who won.

Chan, the law dean, believed Beijing should draw on how it handles Hong Kong legislation. The central government can return any law passed in the Legislative Council that it finds unacceptable, and local lawmakers have to reconsider it.

"Something along these lines may be devised," said Chan, who attended a group dinner with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last week.

"[This means] if the central government did not approve of a chief executive candidate, then it would just refuse to make the appointment without [doing anything] more, and there should be another round of elections."

If the candidate who wins in the second round was still unacceptable to Beijing, the problem "has to be resolved by politics rather than law", Chan said.

Alan Hoo, of the Basic Law Institute, has backed the proposal, but said the rejections should take place before the nominating committee voted on the names. "If the winner was rejected, there would be a constitutional crisis."