Letter to Hong Kong by The Frontier Legislative Councillor Cyd HO
11 April 2004
Mum has been working overtime in the last two weeks and left you home alone. I should at least tell you what happened.
The National People's Congress Standing Committee interpreted the Basic Law again. It's the second time within five years. The repeated act invoked a lot of anxiety. Hong Kong people get more skeptical with the Basic Law, whether our rights and liberties could be safeguarded, not to mention whether there would be any progress in our political reform.
Before the Constitutional Development Task Force headed by the Chief Secretary finished with its consultation exercise, the NPC Standing Committee announced that it would interpret the Basic Law in the meeting held from April 2nd to 6th. A ceiling was abruptly set before the direction of reform was thoroughly debated. We all realized that it would be critical for the democratization in Hong Kong, but we don't know what it's all about. The details were kept from Hong Kong people, and were not made known to the public until the Standing Committee meeting was over. We didn't have a chance to discuss the changes brought about by the interpretation. But the new meaning of the provision would be imposed on us and curb the progress in political reform. From now on, the Central Authority holds the string.
Let me reiterate. The interpretation will do more harm than good to Hong Kong. When the government, theoretically, is to be abided by law, could anytime give new meaning to the provision in the name of interpretation, people's trust and confidence in the Basic Law will be gone.
We are most concerned with one point in the interpretation, i.e., the Central Authority will be the one to decide if there's a need to change the method for selecting the chief executive and the Legislative Council. By the interpretation, the Chief Executive of HKSAR could submit a report to the NPC, and it is for the NPC to decide if the need to change is valid. The Chief Executive could introduce a bill to the Legislative Council to implement the reform only when the NPC agrees. It is stated in Annex I and Annex II that, change in the method of selection of the CE and the Legislative Council has to be endorsed by a two-third majority of all the members of the Council and has the consent of the Chief Executive, and the amendments shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the NPC for approval in the case of CE, and for record in the case of Legislative Council. Apparently, the NPC takes on an active role to initiate or stop political reform in Hong Kong through the interpretation.
And we were told in a seminar that "reporting to the Standing Committee for the record" on the change in the election method of the Legislative Council in Annex II means getting confirmation from the Standing Committee after one month's scrutiny. We were also told that this procedure was different from seeking approval because the NPC's approval is granted with a resolution, while this confirmation after one month's scrutiny does not require putting a resolution to vote. I could see the difference between the two in form, but not in substance. Now the NPC could veto any change in the election for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council at the initial stage and has a second chance to veto at the end.
Mr. Qiao Xiaoyang, the deputy Secretary General of the Standing Committee affirmed the NPC's power to interpret the Basic Law. More disturbing, he would not promise to refrain from further interpretation, which is a stark contrast to his keynote speech in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of the Basic Law in the year 2000. Then, he said, the success of "one country two systems" pending on the exercise of self-restraint of the Central Authority. That was an assurance in need, for the Basic Law endows the NPC with power that could change the fundamentals in Hong Kong. To name a few, in article 17, if the Standing Committee considers that any law enacted by the LegCo is not in conformity with the Basic Law, may return the law in question, the law returned shall immediately be invalidated. In article 18, the Standing Committee could decide to declare a state of war or decide that the Region is in a state of emergency, the Central People's Government may issue an order applying the relevant national laws in Hong Kong. If the Standing Committee is indiscreet with its power, the two systems could very soon collapse under the one country.
The interpretation was introduced to put a stop to the debate on political reform. Undoubtedly, some would be discouraged, but the discontent with the poor governance in Hong Kong still prevails. On the contrary, it would more likely be intensified, because the root of the problem is still there. The interpretation could not answer the lack of leadership in Tung's Administration. The common folks who marched on the street on July 1st last year used to be apathetic with politics. But a badly run government that caused so much grievances and cannot be replaced with democratic election took half a million people to the street. Living with poor governance for more than 6 years, Hong Kong people realized the importance of voting right, because that is the peaceful mean to get rid of the incapable. Voters demonstrated their united effort in the District Board election to vote out the pro-government party, and they would do that again in the Legislative Council election. The result will not be in favor of the government. The Executive will find fewer allies in the Council. The Executive and the legislature will be more readily to go into deadlock. Only political reform that brings mandate to the Chief Executive through the ballot box could take him to equal footing with the legislature.
The Task Force will submit the report on the consultation in a few days; the CE will in turn work on his for the Central Authority. It is such mishap that the future of Hong Kong is at this point of time in the hand of one single person, Mr. Tung, who came into his office with very narrow franchise, is also well known for his reservation for equal and universal suffrage. Institutionally, few would agree that he could claim any mandate. From the past experience, many would doubt if Mr. Tung's values match the wish of Hong Kong people.
The Chief Executive assured that he would not delay the report further. It will be ready for the Central Authority in May. This is shocking. The Administration has declined to launch the consultation on reform for years, why rush through the exercise within four months? The hurried introduction of the accountability system is a dear lesson to remember. The time frame is unrealistic without the report on the table, unless it is up the sleeve already. Ample time should be allowed for comment on the Task Force's final product. To facilitate participation of the public on such important issue for Hong Kong, the Task Force's report should be publicized for comment, revised if necessary, and then put to vote in a referendum before the Chief Executive turns the report to the Central Authority.
It's a long way to democracy. More hurdles of interpretation might be ahead of us. The trio from the NPC surprised us with meeting the democrats, gentle words and crack of joke. However, political gestures, no matter how sophisticated to sweeten, cannot heal the wound after damage is done. The skillful lobbying is meaningful only before the interpretation when amendment to or withdrawal of the resolution is possible with interactive dialogue. The hard fact left behind the trio is, the interpretation lifted the threshold to democratization. The positive change comes only in form but unfortunately not in substance.
Despite of the additional restriction, people of Hong Kong know the way out. The voter's registration campaign is warmly received by citizens. Who cares whether the Administration is whole hearted into the registration drive? We went ahead weeks ago. With 35 days left to the cut off date May 15th, students and volunteers keep a high spirit urging passer-by on the street to register or update their mailing address with the Registration and Electoral Office. Eager citizen comes to us for blank form for their young friends going onto 18. Teenagers shyly check with us if they are eligible. We gladly give a big yes for those going onto 18 before July 25th. Voting right is the best 18th birthday present. Once again, the communion of the July 1st rally is back.
Dear son, you'll be 18 in 2006. Should there be direct election for the Chief Executive, I'll be proud to tell you that mum had contributed my part for your right to vote. If direct election is not yet installed, please stand by me against all odds.