Hong Kong Basic Law

Adviser on Basic Law admits naivety on political activity and democracy

Dr Vincent Lo tells forum committee did not expect Hong Kong to become so politicised

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 January, 2014, 4:37pm

A member of the committee which advised on the drafting of the Basic Law in the 1980s says he and his colleagues may have been too "optimistic" in "naively" believing that there would not be much political activity after the 1997 handover.

Dr Vincent Lo Hong-sui, who sat on the Basic Law Consultative Committee, which canvassed opinion on the mini-constitution from 1985 to 1990, made the comments yesterday at a forum on leadership and public policy organised by Oxford University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

On moves towards universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election, Lo warned that "even if we find a new election method supported by most, it will not be a panacea unless we can find the key to unlock" the stalemate between the executive branch and the legislature.

"We wrote an executive-led political system into the Basic Law, buttressing it with the civil service … [expecting civil servants] to run the government as before," said Lo, chairman of Shui On Holdings and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"The politicised atmosphere … today proves us wrong and it shows our ignorance and poor understanding of politics and democracy back then."

Lo said the crux of the structural problem concerning governance was the executive-legislature relationship and he suggested a future leader might break the logjam by forming an alliance with political parties. He called on Hongkongers to "go back to our fine tradition of pragmatism" and urged politicians to make "genuine" compromises.

Lo also lamented that a widening wealth gap had led Hongkongers, especially the young, to blame mainlanders for their "bleak life prospects".

Another speaker at the forum, Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, echoed Lo's views on the roots of social discontent.

Chow said about 1.3 million Hongkongers - nearly 40 per cent of the workforce, could be classified as the "new poor" as they earned between HK$10,000 and HK$20,000 a month yet could not claim welfare. The number was only about 1 million four to five years ago.

"The majority of them are below the age of 35 … they are setting up their families, and they are not entitled to any public housing or welfare benefits," said Chow, of the University of Hong Kong's social work department.

"They would like to ask, 'You are talking about faster economic growth, but for whom? Housing development for whom?' Is it for developers to make more profits or to provide a decent flat for them," Chow said. "The last question is, 'Political development for whom?' The 'new poor' have found they have little say on the making of public policy."

Meanwhile, Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said yesterday that the plan for the 2017 election he proposed last month could be changed. For example, his idea of using preferential voting could be replaced by a run-off poll involving the top two candidates. He is inviting all lawmakers and four chambers of commerce to discuss the plan.

The story was updated at 11am, January 9 to clarify in the first paragraph that the Basic Law Consultative Committee advised on the drafting of the Basic Law, instead of drafting it. 

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam