The right of every citizen to be elected as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not include the right to nomination, says Beijing legal chief Li Fei .
Li, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, says in a paper analysing Article 25 of the covenant that the election right is not an "absolute" principle, adding it should be a right relative to "individual states' democratic participation and understanding", and does not cover nomination.
But at least three international scholars who are in town for an academic conference on the covenant hit back, saying the right to be nominated is inherent in the right to be elected. "You cannot be elected if you are not nominated," Christopher Forsyth, professor of public law and private international law at the University of Cambridge, said.
Professor Carole Petersen, from the University of Hawaii, said it was "absolutely irrational" for anyone to say the covenant protected citizens' right to be elected but not to be nominated.
According to Article 25, citizens shall have the right - "without unreasonable restrictions" - to vote and to be elected by "universal and equal suffrage".
In his three-page analysis, seen by the South China Morning Post, Li said the covenant's preamble contained "examples of reasonable restrictions" on election rights and justified further restrictions to be imposed by states in accordance with their democratic understanding. For example, he said, some states "bar political parties and individuals which advocate war and racism from enjoying the right to be elected".
"There exists no uniform international standard," he said.
Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo SC, who saw the paper in Beijing, echoed Li's views.
"The election rights stipulated by the [covenant] should only cover the right to vote and the right to be voted [for], not the right to be nominated," he said.
The first few lines of the covenant, extended by Britain to Hong Kong in 1976, say: "The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom … can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights".
Professor Lee Hoong-phun, Sir John Latham chair of law at Australia's Monash University, said the general principles of universal suffrage could be applied to different election models.
"The covenant guarantees the right to stand for election," Lee, who is attending the academic roundtable on the covenant organised by the University of Hong Kong, said.
"There might be different models for nomination, but everybody should have the right to be nominated," Lee said. "If you do not have the right to be nominated, then you cannot stand for election, thus violating the [covenant]."