The Basic Law does not stipulate that the city's electoral system must meet international norms, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said yesterday, in remarks some scholars saw as a tactic to justify a possible crackdown on Occupy Central.
Speaking as the National People's Congress Standing Committee met in Beijing to discuss a framework for reform ahead of the city's first democratic chief executive election in 2017, Leung said: "The Basic Law simply does not state the term 'international standards'."
He made the remarks in reference to the demands of the Occupy movement, which has threatened to rally volunteers to block streets in the heart of the city if Beijing fails to allow a model for universal suffrage that conforms with accepted international standards.
Leung said Hong Kong was a unique society in many ways - including granting foreign permanent residents the right to vote.
"If the election in 2017 must fulfil international standards, should we deprive foreigners who are among the 5 million qualified voters … of the right to universal suffrage?" he asked.
In fact, the international situation varies: some countries, such as New Zealand, do allow non-citizens with permanent residency to vote.
Most countries, including the United States, strictly limit voting to citizens.
Other "unique" aspects of the Basic Law include the city's financial independence from Beijing and the fact it has its own currency, Leung added. He said Occupy would be "counterproductive" to the goal of achieving universal suffrage.
He said it was aimed at justifying a crackdown on Occupy.
Occupy founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said there was no doubt that the contents of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a United Nations treaty signed by Britain, had been carried over by article 39 of the Basic Law.
"Local courts have cited the covenant in many cases when assessing whether our laws meet international norms," Tai, a law professor, said.
"The Leung I know cannot have such a poor understanding of our law. Otherwise he is deliberately distorting the concepts."
Since the handover in 1997, there has been a legal debate between Beijing and local liberal scholars on the issue.
Beijing acknowledged international standards existed but insisted that a reservation to the covenant regarding the right to vote, entered by Britain on Hong Kong's behalf before the handover, was still valid. The scholars stated the opposite.
Michael Davis, a law professor from the University of Hong Kong, said: "We should not lose sight that the most confrontational party here is a government that has made mincemeat out of its constitutional and international obligations under the Basic Law."
He lamented the "complete failure" of the government and some NPC deputies to explain Hong Kong's concerns to Beijing.
Peter Wong Man-kong, a local deputy to the NPC, said he did not see any problem with the current electoral system which "was fair but not equal", because those who committed themselves to politics "deserve to have more rights than others".