Top official Li Fei drops another hint about Beijing’s thinking on 2017 election

Stringent rules look likely for chief executive election, as top mainland official suggests key committee is not in the mood for compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 6:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 2:19am

A mainland official has hinted that the national legislature's top body will set stringent rules for Hong Kong's next chief executive election, unswayed by the possibility of "disastrous effects" if the reform package fails to pass the local legislature.

Li Fei summoned the memory of Deng Xiaoping, who told British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1982 that China would resume sovereignty over Hong Kong regardless of the consequences.

Li, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, was speaking ahead of a meeting next week by Standing Committee of National People's Congress that will lay down a framework for the city's first popular election to choose its leader in 2017.

"I noted that some people wrote in newspapers in Hong Kong that it would be disastrous if the central government did not adopt what they advocate," Li told a Shenzhen seminar attended by Hong Kong representatives. He recalled Deng telling Thatcher - who had warned of a "disastrous effect" if Beijing insisted on taking back Hong Kong - that it "would face the disaster head on and make the decision".

"Today we also need to face universal suffrage with the utmost determination and courage, and make a historic choice," Li said.

A person familiar with Beijing's stance said: "The central government won't make concessions when national sovereignty and security are at stake."

Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee lamented that Beijing seemed to have made up its mind. "It seems there's no room for any change."

Democrat Cheung Man-kwong described Li's comments as "tough and clear".

The seminar was the last of a series hosted by Li and attended by businessmen and scholars, along with Zhang Rongshun, vice-chairman of the Basic Law Committee, Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and Zhang Xiaoming , director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong.

One strict rule hinted at by Li was a requirement that the nominating committee, which Beijing insists has the exclusive power to pick candidates, should follow the structure of the election committee that selected the current chief executive.

Li said the new committee "must" give equal representation to the four major sectors that made up the previous one, which has been criticised as anti-democratic. He did not say if it would also consist of 1,200 members.

Li did not say whether a person who wanted to run would need to gain support from more than half of the members of the nominating committee - a hotly debated issue - but said "the minority must obey the majority".

Barrister Edward Chan King-sang said he told Li that if the structure of the election committee was to be followed, then its low threshold for candidate eligibility - one-eighth of the committee - should also be followed.

Legal academic Eric Cheung Tat-ming said he felt Li was "interpreting" the Basic Law to justify the 50 per cent threshold, which could be harmful for further reform beyond 2017.