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Hong Kong Basic Law

Extending term of power for leaders ‘usually won’t end well’, Hong Kong Bar Association head Philip Dykes warns

Human rights lawyer raises concerns about the rule of law in city, following recent moves in the national legislature

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 6:05am

Extending the term a leader could stay in power by amending the country’s constitution would “usually” not end well, Hong Kong Bar Association council chairman Philip Dykes warned on Monday.

His comments came after a constitutional amendment bill over the removal of term limits for China’s presidency was read out during the annual sitting of the nation’s legislature in Beijing.

The bill stated that scrapping the limit of two five-year terms for the president would be beneficial to “strengthening and perfecting the national leadership system”.

Philip Dykes elected new head of Hong Kong Bar Association in upset win

After giving a speech on the rule of law in Hong Kong at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Dykes said the constitutional amendments might not go as planned.

“Extended terms of power brought about by a change to the constitution don’t usually end well,” the newly elected head of the city’s legal body said without further elaborating.

Dykes also refused to say if such a move would affect the rule of law in Hong Kong. “Let’s see if this happens,” he said.

The constitutional amendment bill is set to be put to a vote on Sunday by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), the nation’s top legislative body. The passage of the bill would mean incumbent Chinese leader Xi Jinping could rule for life.

In other parts of the world, there have been cases that seem to lend weight to Dyke’s warning.

Former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had his term limit removed in a 2002 constitutional referendum, after being in power for 15 years. He was ousted in 2011 following a widespread protest movement.

Blaise Compaoré, who was president of West African country Burkina Faso for 27 years, tried to extend his rule with a constitutional amendment in 2014. The move sparked large scale protests that led to Compaoré’s resignation in the same year.

At Monday’s event, Dykes also said he could not rule out a further interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPCSC.

Hong Kong Bar Association laments ‘political screening’ of election candidates

In October 2016, the NPCSC interpreted Article 104 in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, paving the way for six opposition lawmakers in the city to be disqualified over improper oaths of office.

Dykes said the next battlefield would be the election eligibility of advocates for Hong Kong’s independence and self-determination. “One can easily foresee this bubbling up to become a legal issue.”

In January, Agnes Chow Ting from pro-democracy party Demosisto was banned by a returning officer from running in the March 11 Legislative Council by-election, on the grounds that her party advocates self-determination for the city.

Two weeks after Dykes was elected chairman of its governing council, the Bar Association released a statement saying that the officer’s decision was “equivalent to the introduction of a political screening process”.

Dykes on Monday called the power of the NPCSC to interpret the Basic Law as “the greatest threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong”. He said while the NPCSC was not accountable to the Hong Kong people, its decisions could affect the city’s government and courts.

Dykes said the association would continue to speak up on issues of public interest when necessary.