There have long been rumours that mainland officials in Hong Kong are involved in canvassing on behalf of pro-Beijing candidates in elections. This has never been substantiated with concrete evidence, but recent remarks by independent legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun have aroused concerns whether such interference is indeed taking place.
The former tourism legislator raised eyebrows in political circles with his surprise victory in September for a directly elected seat in Kowloon East. Last week, Tse said the liaison office had helped him in canvassing for votes. He later clarified that the office had only introduced him to people at some events, though the office said his remarks were unfounded. The discrepancies suggest one or the other is not telling the truth.
Tse is the first to "confirm" openly what has long been suspected within political circles. We do not know whether this is true or not, but it would be a serious breach of the one country, two systems formula if the claim is substantiated. More worryingly, the solicitor-lawmaker sought to play down the alleged interference, saying the office's influence was "unavoidable". Such a condoning attitude falls short of what is expected from a lawmaker who has sworn to uphold the Basic Law, the essence of which is to preserve the city's autonomy under the principle of one country, two systems.
Beijing has a say in our electoral reforms. However, Article 22 of the Basic Law prohibits all mainland agencies in Hong Kong from interfering with affairs which the city administers on its own. The liaison office has also clearly set out its functions on its website, such as liaising with Chinese bodies here and facilitating exchanges with the mainland. None of them gives it the mandate to canvass on behalf of election candidates. The conduct of elections is clearly within the city's autonomy.
It takes everyone's vigilance and effort to defend our autonomy. One country, two systems will become meaningless if the promise of allowing the city to run its own affairs is not firmly adhered to. Elections must be kept free of interference.