Top Chinese law scholar rules out any public nomination of chief executive candidates

Carrie Lam says Rao Geping's comment on chief executive poll sets a definitive tone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 4:47am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 9:17am

A top Beijing legal scholar and the chief secretary yesterday presented a united front in ruling out even a watered-down form of public nomination for the chief executive poll in 2017.

Rao Geping, a member of the Basic Law Committee and a law professor at Peking University, and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor were speaking at a high-powered gathering of more than 300 top officials, lawmakers and leaders to discuss the city's constitutional future.

Rao explicitly ruled out any idea that would allow voters to put forward chief executive candidates - including a diluted version previously proposed by a Beijing loyalist legal scholar.

He also said that the requirement that any candidate for the top job "love the country and love Hong Kong" was more than just political - it was inherent in the Basic Law.

In a rare public appearance, former finance chief Antony Leung Kam-chung told the seminar that "Hong Kong will move backwards" if the pan-democrats do not compromise to break the deadlock over universal suffrage. Leung, tipped as a possible chief executive candidate, would not be drawn on whether he would join the race in 2017.

Although Rao stressed that he had been stating his personal views, the chief secretary, speaking after the seminar, said his comments set a definitive tone.

"The speaker's remarks have set the definitive tone [for electoral reform]: under the Basic Law's article 45, a broadly representative nominating committee is the only organisation which is empowered to put forward chief executive candidates," Lam said.

"Any alternative nomination method by other individuals or organisations is not going to fulfil the constitutional and legal requirements."

Lam said further discussion before the five-month consultation period on electoral reform ends in early May should focus on the nominating committee.

Article 45 stipulates that the chief executive be nominated by a "broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

Ruling out both public nomination and non-binding public recommendation - in which voters would put forward a candidate shortlist to the nominating committee - Rao said: "The right to nominate chief executive candidates is specifically and exclusively for the nominating committee."

University of Hong Kong law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee, proposed in January that the public be allowed to "recommend" candidates.

Yesterday, Rao said choosing candidates by any method other than the nominating committee was a "democratic demand", but such demands must comply with the Basic Law. "Any democratic demand cannot deviate from the law … none of it has the privilege of ignoring the law," said Rao, who is also a deputy director of the Institute of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs.

The seminar comes amid debate over whether the nominating committee has the exclusive right to put forward candidates.

On the patriotism requirement, Rao said: "In legal language, it means a chief executive candidate should uphold the Basic Law and China's resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong … It is inherent in the legislative intent of the miniconstitution."

He added that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did not necessarily apply to Hong Kong.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the covenant applied to elections in sovereign states, not "local government polls" like Hong Kong's.

That contradicted constitutional affairs minister Raymond Tam Chi-yuen's remark on Friday that the government was "confident" its ultimate proposal for electoral reform would comply with the covenant.

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing weighed in during a question-and-answer session, and said afterwards that she did not find Rao's remarks "too hostile".

"But the chief secretary should not say [Rao's comments] have struck a definitive tone, as the consultation period isn't over yet," said Lau.