Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying has refused to back down over his suggestion that the city’s next leader could be selected without going through the usual electoral process, even as he faces resistance from within his own camp.
In an exclusive interview with the Post just hours after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor publicly dismissed the option for the second time, Leung maintained that Article 45 of the Basic Law allowed for the city’s leader to be selected via consultation rather than an election, with no need for legal changes.
Leung – now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body – also elaborated for the first time on why lingering uncertainties cast the outcome of next year’s leadership race in doubt, even with broad powers to disqualify candidates and the Beijing-imposed national security law at officials’ disposal.
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“We should take note of the stipulations of the Basic Law,” he said. “We cannot ignore the possibility of consultation, the central government’s substantive authority of appointment, and Hong Kong’s actual situation, where serious changes have emerged in the last one or two years.”
“With the current situation, there’s a case for not going forward [with the vote] … as it could cause a lot of problems,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Leung’s successor, Lam, had doubled down on her assertion that the city’s mini-constitution would need to be amended to allow for the chief executive to be chosen without an election.
The row – mainly through a prolonged back-and-forth in the press – first erupted last week when Leung told a media outlet that if the city’s next leader was picked through consultation, rather than an election, it would still be legal, and would not require the Basic Law to be changed.
Lam, however, immediately dismissed the idea, saying elections were better as they allowed candidates to explain their visions for the city.
Since then, other pro-establishment heavyweights, such as former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan, have also thrown cold water on Leung’s idea – which he has nonetheless continued to defend.
The debate centres on language in Article 45 of the Basic Law stipulating that the leader “shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed” by Beijing.
The article also states that the method for selecting the chief executive shall be specified in light of the “actual situation” in Hong Kong. Annex I of the Basic Law, meanwhile, sets out that the chief executive shall be “elected by a broadly representative Election Committee in accordance with this Law and appointed by the Central People’s Government”.
Leung has continued to argue that forgoing the chief executive election might be preferable given the “actual situation” in the city – namely, the possibility of an opposition figure prevailing in a vote.
Hong Kong’s chief executives are not selected by popular vote. Instead, they are chosen by a 1,200-member Election Committee that has historically been heavily stacked in favour of the pro-establishment camp. The committee is made up of business representatives, professionals, district councillors, politicians and community leaders.
While a landslide opposition victory in 2019’s district council elections has threatened to increase their share of votes on the committee, the bloc would only grow from holding roughly a quarter of the seats to about a third. In recent weeks, it has also been reported that Beijing is considering changes to the composition of the committee that would effectively erase the opposition’s gains.
What’s more, since Beijing’s imposition of the sweeping national security law on the city last June, the opposition camp has been divided on whether to even take part in future elections, with some saying the polls were rendered meaningless if candidates could be arrested for purportedly subverting the government. Other ordinances, meanwhile, grant government returning officers the power to invalidate hopefuls’ candidacies if they are deemed to be insincere about upholding the Basic Law.
But Leung on Tuesday maintained the existing laws were insufficient to stop the opposition camp from winning more seats in the Election Committee.
“If you use the past election methods of the committee and the chief executive, how do you get rid of the kind of people [from the opposition bloc]?” he asked.
“Those candidates that come out will be people without any track record, and no one knows who they are … How could you disqualify them?”
Leung said he also believed that the camp had come to dominate the governing bodies of professional groups, such as the Bar Association and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which he took as an indication that those sectors would select similarly opposition-leaning members for the Election Committee.
I really don’t want to take part in this kind of debate; many people in society have been debating this, and I don’t want to be a part of it
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong chief executive
“Forgive me for saying this, but the [candidates] are all anti-establishment, not just pro-democracy,” he said. “All professional bodies seem to be like this, and you can say that the silent majority just won’t come out.”
Asked to comment on Leung’s stance on Tuesday morning, Lam had said that while she did not want to argue with her predecessor in the press, his suggestion would require changes to the Basic Law.
“I really don’t want to take part in this kind of debate; many people in society have been debating this, and I don’t want to be a part of it,” she said.
But, she added: “Annex I specified the method for the selection of the chief executive. Even if he or she was selected through consultation, it seems that we need a set of rules, and some amendments need to be made to the annex.”
But Leung disagreed, insisting Beijing had the power to promulgate a set of consultative rules without amending the mini-constitution.
“You amend Annex I if you are amending the election method … [But] if we adopt the approach of consultation, then Annex I doesn’t kick in at all – the central government surely announces a consultative method,” he argued.
In a rare English post on his Facebook page on Monday night, Leung again echoed the Basic Law’s mention of the “actual situation” in the city as a determining factor in how its leader should be chosen.
“The fact that elections have taken place previously does not invalidate consultation as the other option,” he wrote. “What is the ‘actual situation’ facing Hong Kong? It is clear that the opposition [is] openly defying the constitutional authority of the [central government], and [is] prepared to bring Hong Kong to ruin.”