Row between HK leader Carrie Lam and ex-chief CY Leung deepens as top adviser weighs in on issue of elections

22-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A row between a former Hong Kong leader and the current administration intensified on Wednesday as a leading government adviser weighed in on the heated political reform debate, insisting the city’s chief executive should be picked through elections.

The dispute erupted on Monday when former chief executive Leung Chun-ying told a media outlet that it would still be lawful if the city’s next leader was chosen without an election. Incumbent leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dismissed the idea the following day.

Wading into the controversy sparked by the sparring between Leung and Lam, her chief adviser Bernard Chan, convenor of the Executive Council, also poured scorn on the idea.

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“Chief executives picked through elections will enjoy greater legitimacy. The arrangement should not be changed lightly,” said Chan, also a delegate to the National People’s Congress.

He believed such a drastic change was unlikely to happen given all of the city’s leaders were picked via elections since 1997, when the city returned from British to Chinese rule. Chan added that it also required discussion in society.

Chan said the chief executive could indeed be selected through consultation but argued it should only happen in extreme situations.

“Under normal circumstances, of course, the chief executive should be picked through elections which could facilitate his or her governance,” he said.

At the centre of the argument is Article 45 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which stipulates the chief executive should be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by Beijing.

It also states the method for choosing the leader shall be specified in light of the “actual situation” in Hong Kong and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress, with the ultimate aim of selection by universal suffrage.

The former and incumbent leaders crossed swords on Tuesday when Lam distanced herself from her predecessor’s suggestion, underscoring the importance of elections which she said would allow hopefuls to elaborate on their vision for Hong Kong.

“I think whether it is from the perspective of historical development, or the social effects of an election, it’s better for the chief executive to be elected,” she added.

But her response soon triggered a rebuttal from Leung, who argued that it was the opposition camp’s close ties with Washington that made him question the necessity of the chief executive election.

“What’s the actual situation in Hong Kong in recent years? The major politicians from the opposition camp have refused to recognise their roots… or have even asked the American government to sanction Hong Kong,” he argued.

“If this actual situation causes a puppet of the American government to be elected as chief executive, do we still want an election?”

Leung doubled down on Wednesday.

“Over the past two years, the biggest change in Hong Kong’s ‘actual situation’ is that the United States and other Western countries have meddled in the city’s affairs in a blunt and high-profile manner,” he said.

Veteran democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming, who helped draft the Basic Law in the late 1980s, said the word “consultations” was included in Article 45 because it had to mirror the wording in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the 1997 handover.

“Lu Ping insisted we should stick to the exact wording of the joint declaration,” Lee said, referring to the late chief Chinese delegate at the 1980s negotiations with London over the transfer of the city’s sovereignty.

“Back then, not a single one sitting on the Basic Law drafting committee called for picking the city leader through consultations. No one opposed the inclusion of ‘consultations’ [in Article 45] as we all were well aware that eventually elections would be held after the handover.”

Lee said in the 1980s that Beijing was determined to hold chief executive elections after the handover as it was looking to secure the confidence of foreign businesses and Hongkongers and to convince them to stay.

Lee accused Leung of trying to make it easier for himself to secure a comeback with his controversial suggestion. “He fears he may not win the election and so proposes doing it through consultations,” he added.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, started a three-day meeting on Wednesday.

Sources previously told the Post the committee would discuss ways to retaliate against London’s visa scheme for those with British National (Overseas) status as well as drastic reforms of Hong Kong’s electoral system ahead of the next chief executive election in 2022.


Category: Hong Kong

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