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Universal suffrage

EU presses for Hong Kong electoral reform after ‘politically challenging’ 2016

Call contradicts earlier opinion of legal chief at Beijing’s liaison office

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 9:51pm

The European Union has urged Hong Kong to kick-start electoral reform, saying it would give the government greater legitimacy to tackle the city’s social and economic challenges.

That call was at odds with the opinion of Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief for the central government’s liaison office, who last Saturday rejected the need for development of democracy in Hong Kong over the next decade.

The 19th report by the European Commission on Hong Kong, ­released on Thursday, read: “The EU encourages the Hong Kong SAR and China’s central government to resume electoral reform in line with the Basic Law and to reach agreement on an election system that is democratic, fair, open and transparent.”

It added that universal suffrage would give the government greater public support and legitimacy in pursuing economic development and tackling social challenges like socio-economic and generational divides.

The commission also said that the record turnouts in the Legislative Council and Election Committee elections had shown that people were eager to play an active role in political life and in deciding the future of Hong Kong.

But speaking at an academic conference on Hong Kong affairs held in Beijing on Saturday, the liaison office’s Wang, a former Tsinghua University law dean, said: “Political reform has failed after so many years.

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“[Hong Kong] cannot afford to dedicate energy to political reform in the next five or 10 years, instead of housing, people’s livelihoods and the economy.”

Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has vowed to heal social rifts, did not commit to restarting political reform on the campaign trail, drawing the ire of pan-democrats.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping met Lam earlier this month, he did not follow his predecessors’ practice of calling for the city to deliver greater democracy.

The annual report is released in line with a commitment given to the European Parliament in 1997.

This year’s report described 2016 as a “politically challenging” time for Hong Kong and the functioning of the “one country, two systems” principle, with the emergence of political groups advocating self-determination and independence; the Mong Kok riot; the disqualification of two pro-independence lawmakers; and the interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The report noted that parts of Hong Kong society were concerned about a gradual erosion of the city’s promised high degree of autonomy, with negative trends in press freedom in reporting on domestic and foreign policy developments of China.

But it concluded that, overall, the “one country, two systems” principle continued to work well in 2016, as the rule of law remained the guiding principle for the government and society at large, along with freedom of speech and freedom of information generally being upheld.