Fairness of Hong Kong chief executive poll under threat from ex-leader’s comments, lawyers say

Group of lawyers on Election Committee that will choose Hong Kong’s next leader says warning by Beijing adviser Tung Chee-hwa that winner must be ‘acceptable’ only undermines poll

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 10:29pm

Lawyers with a vote in the upcoming chief executive election have said purported remarks by top Beijing adviser Tung Chee-hwa about the possibility of the central government refusing to appoint the winner could undermine the fairness of the poll.

The 30 lawyers who make up the legal subsector of the 1,194-member Election Committee that will choose the city’s next leader issued a statement on Thursday expressing “deep concerns” about Tung’s comments.

Tung, a former Hong Kong chief executive and now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, on Friday reportedly told a closed-door meeting attended by more than 30 advisers to his think tank, some of whom sit on the Election Committee, that Beijing would not approve the winner of the March 26 election if it deemed him or her unacceptable.

While it remained unclear if Tung was referring to John Tsang Chun-wah, the underdog in terms of nominations from the committee but the candidate with the widest popular appeal among the four, Tung did say Beijing did not trust the former finance chief, and that another candidate, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, was more capable.

Beijing won’t appoint winner of chief executive race if it finds candidate ‘unacceptable’, elder statesman Tung Chee-hwa warns

“Any attempt to exert pressure or influence, by use of threats, on any member of the ... Election Committee over their exercise of nomination powers, to the detriment or advantage of any potential nominee, is to be deplored and may amount to inciting (or attempting to incite) the commission of a criminal offence,” a statement by the group of lawyers said.

“Such action undermines the fairness of our chief executive election and shows a callous disregard for the aspirations of most Hong Kong people to have free and fair elections without ignorant and insensitive interference.”

A spokeswoman for Tung’s Our Hong Kong Foundation said on Wednesday that Tung believed there was a need for a competent leader with a strong commitment to leading the city.

Tung was of the view that a chief executive who enjoyed Beijing’s blessing “was a good thing”, the spokeswoman said, because he or she could then facilitate communication between the central government and Hong Kong. She also referred to Article 45 of the Basic Law which says the winning candidate must be appointed by Beijing.

Under the election system, an aspirant needs 150 nominations from the committee to qualify and at least 601 votes to win.

Lam, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, has bagged more than 300 nominations, with the pro-Beijing political camp expressing landslide support for her. On Thursday she said she would continue to lobby for even more.

“I hope you will all understand this is a fair and open election,” she said.

Lam did not respond on Thursday to Tung’s remark, only referring reporters to his statement.

Tsang, meanwhile, edged closer to the minimum threshold after he received 21 nominations from the information technology subsector, controlled by pan-democrats. The 110 nominations he has received so far are all from the pan-democratic camp.

A source from Tsang’s campaign said his office would start to go through nomination forms he had obtained on Thursday and formally submit his bid next week. Tsang is still trying to acquire support from the pro-establishment bloc.