Catch-22 situation looms over election for chief executive in 2017

Opponents of Beijing cannot be chief executive, but anyone legally qualified can run, says Li Fei

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 November, 2013, 7:45am

Beijing's top Basic Law specialist says Hong Kong faces a dilemma: it cannot elect a chief executive opposed to Beijing, nor can legally qualified candidates be barred from running when the city chooses its leader by one-person, one-vote in 2017.

Li Fei offered no pointers on how the Hong Kong government could square the two goals when he met officials and lawmakers at a Government House lunch. Instead, he warned that introducing universal suffrage without "taking objective conditions into account" risked plunging the city into chaos.

Li, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, was expected to go some way toward setting a framework for the public consultation on electoral reform at the lunch, the centrepiece of a three-day visit that ends today.

But he stuck largely to reiterating legal points. He spoke of the Basic Law requirement that a "broadly representative" nominating committee be formed to put forward candidates. He did not directly address the pan-democrat demand that the public get to nominate candidates.

"All social classes and sectors [should] have a say in the nomination process," Li said.

But Li said the mini-constitution also provided for anyone fitting legal requirements relating to age and residency to run for chief executive.

In comments pan-democrats said raised the prospect of "screening", Li said: "The chief executive is accountable to the central government as well as Hong Kong. This means that the post must be taken up by a person who loves the country as well as Hong Kong - anyone opposed to the central government cannot [take it]."

He warned that electing an opponent of Beijing would harm relations.

"Unless objective conditions are taken into account, universal suffrage could lead to social chaos, economic turmoil and misery," Li said

Li called the discrepancy over patriotism the "key difficulty to be solved".

"We must find a practical solution to the problem," Li said, adding that Beijing was "fully confident" Hong Kong could ensure its elected chief executive could "fit the 'love the country and Hong Kong' requirement".

Li's remarks split the pan-democratic camp. Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who attended the lunch, believed Beijing had not ruled out public nomination. But People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip accused Li of snubbing the idea of public nomination.

Beijing loyalist lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung said public nomination was unlikely to be adopted.

And political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said Li's comment that the nominating committee must be made up equally of the business, professional and social sectors and politicians, could kill the idea of public nomination.