Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
The High Court ruling nine days ago to disqualify four legislators from our legislature has set off a political storm in Hong Kong, just two weeks after Carrie Lam took over as the Chief Executive. The ruling was unprecedented in Hong Kong, both in its nature and the number of legislators affected. First and foremost, the removal from office of the four legislators — Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law and Edward Yiu — means the disqualification of over 120,000 votes that were cast for them in the 2016 election held just about 10 months ago. If we include the votes received by Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, the other two legislators who were disqualified earlier, the votes of over 180,000 voters were discarded, representing over 8% of all the votes cast, removing 6 of the 70 legislators in the council, or 9% of the total number of legislators.
As a result of these disqualifications, the balance of political power in Legco is immediately and artificially altered, with the democrats now being in the minority in both the geographical constituency and functional constituency groups, meaning that we the democrats no longer hold the veto power on amendments or rule changes proposed by Legco members. In other words, the Administration and the pro-establishment camp now have the numbers they need to ram through any controversial bills, amendments or rule changes in Legco, rolling over the democrats despite the fact that we, the opposition, actually holds the majority of the popular votes in the 2016 election.
Yet, these disqualifications were unjust not only because of their magnitude and effects, but the way they were initiated by the previous notorious CY Leung administration. First, that administration took the unusual measure to disqualify legislators based on their behaviors or wordings during their oath taking, despite the fact that many other legislators in previous terms all made similar acts, and these acts were actually approved by the previous and present Legco presidents. Moreover, actions taken by the CY Leung administration must have prompted the re-interpretation of the Basic Law on oath taking by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, with retrospective power.
Last week, even Prof Albert Chen Hung-yee, widely seen as a pro-Beijing Basic Law expert, wrote in an article that while he believed the NPCSC had the power to re-interpret the Basic Law, the disqualified legislators could only act in accordance to their understanding and knowledge of the law and legal precedence at the time of their actions at the oath taking, and if their actions then were judged based on new and later re-interpretation of the law, it would be greatly unjust to them, as modern legal concepts usually would place significant restrictions on the effects of legal changes with retrospective effects.
But, looking beyond this conflict between China’s legal system with Hong Kong’s common law system, the political effect on Hong Kong with the robbing of almost one-tenth of our citizens votes cast, and almost one-tenth of our duly elected legislators, all from the opposition camp, must be the focus of the attention of our citizens.
Last Wednesday, in the final meeting this year of Legco’s Finance Committee, the vetting of the $3.6 billion funding for quality education enhancement was met with stormy protests. It was much more than a show of emotion after the disqualification judgment. While these educational funding measures were largely proposed by many of us in the democratic camp when the last administration cut funding, we were still faced with the challenge of passing this funding request in a most politically tensed period. It was indeed a test of both the democrats’ unity and our political will as a block.
In the past week, we had many long meetings among us the democrats, where we found large agreements on principle grounds, but also significant differences in our preferred strategies and actions. We also knew that we must balance well against putting the wellbeing of citizens on the line — in this case, many of the teachers, students and their families that will be affected by this funding.
In the end, the educational funding was approved, along with several other funding applications including one involving the building and refurbishment of three hospitals.
Some people may look at us and say that the democrats were divided. But we know that the democrats are a diverse group of people and political parties. We share the same values for democracy, rule of law and social justice. We may have different ideas on our tactics, but so do our supporters. Whether some of us are labelled as progressive or moderates, we must remember that even though our supporters also have diverse views, they also expect us to act united and together. It’s a tough act but we have no choice but to find this balance, in order to win back the balance we hold in our legislature, which is still the most important fort we must keep, in order to continue our fight for justice, democracy and political rights for the people.
For Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the ball is now on her court. She cannot expect the relation with the legislature to be “business as usual” when she gives her first Policy Address in October. She must find ways to defuse the time-bombs left by CY Leung. Some people have mentioned some conditions for her handling of the current political crisis, such as that her administration should not initiate more disqualification cases against other legislators, and not act to support the civil cases already brought against some other legislators. Also, by-elections should be held as soon as possible to avoid prolonging the unfair imbalance in Legco, and not to hold the by-election in such a way that the results may be swayed, by putting more than one vacant seats in a by-election in a particular district. She should also not pursue any controversial laws such as Article 23 legislation during this period of unfair imbalance in Legco, and finally, as even Prof Albert Chen proposed, the government should not pursue the cost of the litigation of the four disqualified legislators.
But she has to do more. Ultimately we are talking about sharing of political power with those of us the democrats who got the majority of the electoral votes. Before we can even think about genuine universal suffrage, the government must listen to alternative views and take different opinions into consideration in its policy-making and infrastructure projects.
Whether or not Carrie Lam can dig herself out of the hole CY Leung put her in will determine if her honeymoon period will truly be over, when Legco reconvenes in October. This is the true test for her.