Hong Kong elections: Beijing sends top official to discuss postponement of Legislative Council vote
- Zhang Xiaoming arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday and has already met members of Basic Law Committee, Post has learned
- Deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office is gathering views on legal ramifications of decision
Sources said Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, met five members of the Basic Law Committee in Hong Kong on Sunday to get their views on the legal issues arising from the postponement.
Zhang’s meetings in Hong Kong came as two pro-Beijing heavyweights, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Tam Yiu-chung, disagreed over whether four opposition lawmakers, who have been barred from seeking re-election, should continue to serve in Legco in the coming year.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, told the Post he was invited to meet another “senior and influential central government official” handling Hong Kong affairs on Sunday.
“As far as I know, the central government has kicked off consultation with various sectors on the postponement of the elections and related legal issues,” Lau said.
Hong Kong Legislative Council elections postponed by a year
Lau said his one-on-one meeting with the senior Beijing official lasted more than one hour, during which he told the official it would be more practical to establish a provisional Legco.
“Extending the term would require an interpretation of Article 69 of the Basic Law which states that the tenure of office for Legco shall be four years,” the professor said. “I advised against taking such a move.”
Before Hong Kong was returned from British rule in 1997, Beijing and London agreed on a “through-train” arrangement under which the city’s lawmakers elected in 1995 could serve four years until 1999. But Beijing eventually formed a provisional legislature for Hong Kong, after British governor Chris Patten’s electoral reform plans angered the central government.
Lau, who was one of the proponents of a provisional Legco in the mid-1990s, said Beijing should do the same again.
“It would be better for the central government to appoint members of the provisional legislature, he said. “It would spark the question of possible conflict of interests if the Hong Kong government makes the appointments.”
But legal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun, from the University of Hong Kong, questioned whether the government had sufficient grounds to postpone the elections.
Chan warned that Beijing’s directive would show it was taking “an active step to take charge of Hong Kong”.
“It may require all members of the provisional Legco to swear another oath and this would give them an opportunity to disqualify some of the incumbent members,” he said.
Before Lam announced the postponement, returning officers had cited the political stance of four incumbent opposition lawmakers, including three from the Civic Party, when barring them from seeking re-election.
Even the pro-establishment camp has been divided over whether the quartet can serve in Legco in the coming year.
Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to the NPCSC, said Beijing would be “caught up in embarrassment” if banned candidates were allowed to extend their duties in the council.
“Returning officers had already ruled that they were not eligible to stand for the election. Allowing them to serve as lawmakers for the coming year would be self-contradictory,” he said.
Tam is a former lawmaker and chairman of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).
But former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, the founding chairman of the DAB, told a radio programme it “would not be proportionate” if the invalidation of candidacies by election officials led to lawmakers being ousted from their council duties.
“Disqualifying a lawmaker from office is a very serious matter,” he said. “Article 79 of the Basic Law stated that ... you need a two-thirds majority in Legco to decide on ousting an incumbent lawmaker.
“Even if a lawmaker murdered someone, or was convicted over a criminal offence, it doesn’t mean he or she is automatically ousted.”
However, Tsang added that if Beijing decided to establish a provisional Legco, there were no rules to govern its membership or appointments. He believed that rather than naming people who must not sit on the body, the NPCSC could list out some principles and criteria on the provisional body’s membership.
“The National People’s Congress is the highest organ of state power. Under [China’s] constitution, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee has the authority to tackle this constitutional issue encountered by [Hong Kong],” a government spokesman said.
“We do not see how this is contrary to the principles of legality and legal certainty and degrades the rule of law in Hong Kong as alleged by the [association].”
The spokesman also said the epidemic situation could be regarded as “an occasion of public danger and emergency” and thus it was justified to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to postpone the elections, discounting the Bar Association’s criticisms that it could be unlawful for the government to invoke the legislation for that purpose.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam interviewed former Legco president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, and posted a video on Facebook.
In the talk-show style session, Fan urged Lam’s government to make use of the time before next year’s Legco elections to improve the city’s electoral arrangements and introduce electronic voting.
“Our election system does not seem to have entered the digital era,” Fan said.
Lam agreed and said she hoped to take this “good opportunity” to look into the issue.
Former Law Society president Thomas So Shiu-tsung issued a statement in support of Lam’s decision to delay the elections. He also urged the government to consider introducing electronic voting.