Elsie Leung: lobbying Election Committee members does not amount to interference in Hong Kong politics

Vice-chairwoman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee says central government representatives can lobby members, as long as it is done in accordance with the law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 11:27pm

A pro-Beijing political heavyweight has insisted that the central government’s representatives in Hong Kong enjoyed the “freedom of speech” to “lobby” Election Committee members over who to support in the city’s leadership race.

Elsie Leung Oi-sie, vice-chairwoman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee and a former justice secretary in Hong Kong, added that this did not amount to interference in local politics.

She made the remarks during an interview hosted by former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing amid controversy over the liaison office’s influence on Election Committee members, who will start nominating chief executive candidates on Tuesday.

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“Anyone can lobby,” Leung said, when asked about the role of the liaison office. “As long as the lobbying is done in accordance with the law, I don’t see that there is anything wrong.”

When Lau asked her if that extended to the liaison office, she replied: “Even the liaison office.”

She added by asking rhetorically: “Do they not have freedom of speech? Do they not have the right to express themselves?”

As long as there was no coercion or inducement, it would be perfectly fine for anyone to be a lobbyist, she said.

And those who felt offended could escape scrutiny during the secret ballot process, she added.

Article 22 of the Basic Law bars mainland officials from interfering in affairs within Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The liaison office has reportedly helped Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor canvass support among pro-establishment election committee members.

Lam earlier asked pro-establishment lawmakers Michael Tien Puk-sun and Felix Chung Kwok-pan not to answer phone calls from the liaison office if they felt uncomfortable.

Apart from the liaison office, Beijing’s No 3 official Zhang Dejiang reportedly travelled to Shenzhen two weeks ago to call for support for Lam.

One of the points of contention in the election is whether candidates should propose democracy reforms under the restrictive framework proposed by Beijing in 2014.

Leung said that if a proposal that went beyond the framework could secure support from two-thirds of lawmakers, the central government would take that into account.

Comparing the different candidates, Leung said she believed Lam, a former chief secretary, would know how to implement the “one country, two systems” principle.

She added she had fewer interactions with former finance chief John Tsang Chun-wah.