Veteran Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu yesterday weighed in on the debate over how universal suffrage should be implemented in 2017, saying an interpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing could be the last option.
Speaking on a television talk show, the head of the Hong Kong delegation to the National People's Congress dismissed a UN Human Rights Committee's report on Hong Kong. The report expressed concern at the "lack of a clear plan to institute universal suffrage" and possible limits on who can stand for election.
Tam said the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights indicated that the right to vote, not the right to nominate or be elected, was universal.
Tam's remarks, seen as controversial, came after Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, hinted at introducing a screening mechanism ahead of the chief executive election in 2017.
Qiao also said that, under the "one country, two systems" principle, a chief executive had to "love the country and love Hong Kong", and that Beijing would have the final say on who became the city's chief.
During the talk show, Tam was asked whether Beijing should interpret the Basic Law to decide how universal suffrage would be carried out.
She responded: "The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress is very busy, and they try their best not to interpret the Basic Law.
"No one, including the central government … wants to do an interpretation of the Basic Law. But if there is a problem Hong Kong cannot solve by itself, then there is a need for an interpretation."
She also cited China's constitution, which mandated the Communist Party to govern the country according to socialism.
She added that under the Basic Law, the chief executive is accountable to the central government. Since the chief executive exercised the power entrusted to him by the constitution and the Basic Law, he had to respect both, she said.
"If you oppose the central government - that is, intend to overthrow the Communist Party or change the practice of socialism - you are violating the constitution and should not be allowed to exercise the powers [of the chief executive]," Tam said.
In response to the UN's concerns, Tam said Article 25(b) of the covenant was not applicable to Hong Kong because the British reserved the right not to apply it to the city in 1976. Later, Tam said on City Forum that by allowing every registered voter over the age of 18 years to vote, the requirements of the covenant on universal and equal suffrage would be met.
In response to a question from the media, a government spokesman echoed Tam's views, saying: "The ability for Hong Kong to achieve universal suffrage originates from the Basic Law and not the [UN covenant]."
Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the University of Hong Kong legal scholar who is now planning the Occupy Central protest movement, slammed Tam's interpretation of the Basic Law as "contrary to common sense".
He pointed out that the UN says that every citizen shall have the right to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections by universal suffrage.
Tam also expressed concern that the Occupy Central movement could reach a stage where it would be difficult for its organisers to keep control.