Hong Kong’s leader has distanced herself from a suggestion by her predecessor that the city’s next chief executive could be selected without an electoral process.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said elections were important because the polls allowed hopefuls to elaborate on their vision for Hong Kong.
“[The process] not only allows a chief executive to be elected, it lets candidates explain to the whole society their expectations and policies for the city,” she said ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting.
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But Lam also warned that while Beijing was sincere about democratic reforms in Hong Kong, it had no choice but to take action when the city’s situation became worrying.
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
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam
Lam’s comments came ahead of a three-day meeting of China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, that begins 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 city’s next chief executive election in 2022.
Proposals include abolishing 117 of the current 1,200 Election Committee seats expected to be held by district councillors after the opposition camp’s landslide victory at the 2019 municipal-level elections, held at the height of that year’s social unrest.
In an interview with local news portal HK01, former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying on Monday noted that Article 45 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, stipulated the city’s chief executive “shall be selected by election or through consultations”.
Even if the city’s next leader was picked without elections, it would still be lawful and the British government could not complain, he added.
Asked if she agreed with Leung’s suggestion, Lam noted that chief executives had been selected by elections since Hong Kong was returned from British rule in 1997.
“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 said.
In 2014, as chief secretary, Lam spearheaded an effort to allow the city’s chief executive to be elected by popular ballot in 2017. But Beijing imposed a stringent framework on the reform, triggering the 79-day Occupy protests.
The Beijing-decreed political reform package was eventually voted down, after officials failed to win over any opposition lawmakers and fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the legislature.
Referring to that failed political reform, Lam insisted Beijing had been sincere about delivering on its promise to allow universal suffrage for the city’s leadership.
“But some people stopped the democratic progress. A few years have passed, and worrying [circumstances] have emerged in Hong Kong’s actual situation,” she said.
“This statement of mine was in line with what I said about why Beijing had to enact a national security law: when a high level of risk emerged in Hong Kong, and the nation’s security, as well as when the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ was endangered, it was reasonable for the central government to take action.”
She added that her government would cooperate if Beijing came up with any plan to reform the city’s electoral systems, or chose to impose retaliatory measures over the BN(O) issue.
Writing on his Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, Leung said it was the opposition camp’s close ties with the American government 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?”
Lam assured residents that as long as they held a Hong Kong passport and had the right of abode, they enjoyed the rights guaranteed by the Basic Law.
“Most people in Hong Kong, even if they are holding a BN(O) passport, are Chinese citizens, and at the same time possess an HKSAR passport,” she said.
Last week, the Post reported Beijing was mulling whether to ban those with BN(O) status from public office in Hong Kong, or even deny them the right to vote, in retaliation against London’s decision to offer them the right of abode.
Lam was also asked if civil servants’ morale could be undermined by the government requiring them to take an oath pledging allegiance to the city. The chief executive said she did not think the requirement would have that effect.
Meanwhile, lawmakers expecting to debate Lam’s policy address on Wednesday were given further details on the government’s progress over the last two months.
In a 14-page letter, Lam told them her administration would be tabling a bill amending the city’s laws on the oath-taking requirements for lawmakers and other public officers after next month’s Lunar New Year holiday.
Lam also said a new, temporary coronavirus hospital near Hong Kong airport would be completed on Wednesday, offering 820 beds for patients.
She further reported there had been 1,504 commercial property transactions following November’s abolition of double stamp duty, up until the end of December. The government could have received about HK$230 million in revenue if the levy had not been scrapped.
Her letter, revealed on Tuesday night, also referred to the government submitting a proposal to the central government on the potential priorities for pushing forward Beijing’s Greater Bay Area plan, which aims to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a finance and technological hub.
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