Opinion | ‘Win-Win’ resolution for HK LegCo

Opinion | ‘Win-Win’ resolution for HK LegCo

The LegCo election has been postponed by a year.  Photo: Singtao

By Mervyn Cheung Man-Ping

Faced with the rapidly rising threat of a major community outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic which has subsequently occurred and led to the near collapse of the local public hospital system with straight days of double to triple digit infection tallies, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam has taken a bold step forward by invoking the emergency powers provided under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to shelve the Legislative Council (LegCo) election from 6 September 2020 for one year, to 5 September 2021.

Taking into careful account of the many paralleled deferral arrangements in the advanced country group, this decision has allayed fears of massive infections arising from hundreds of thousands of eligible voters cramming into the polling stations during the few busy hours on the same polling day that was set planned for September 6 this year. However, the CE has since been confronting with dozens of unfounded accusations stirred up by political opponents, lamenting her for allegedly bowing to Beijing's pressure to act to retain the present political edge held by the pro-establishment groups in the LegCo. This is in addition to the repeated demands from American and West European politicians for such a postponement decision to be rescinded, along with the request to remove the disqualification (DQ) of the twelve LegCo hopefuls from running in the next LegCo election by designated public election officers on grounds of undesired political records which include former travels to the US soliciting favour of intervening in Beijing and HK affairs, opposition to the national security legislation and plans to paralyse the city's government through majority winning of LegCo seats.

Looking rationally back at the circumstances at the time (July 31) when the CE rolled out the LegCo poll deferral plan, it seems that she was only taking things into her own hands without the suspected private deal with the Chinese authorities here or on the mainland. With so many miserable examples and consequences of virus mismanagement by the powers that be round the world, hardly would there be sensible citizens in HK to bet for the CE to relegate at this critical stage the Covid-19 epidemic control to only secondary importance compared to LegCo election which was then just five weeks away.

The former is a hardest battle to fight but losing it would certainly be immediately disastrous in terms of her leadership and reputation here and abroad. Indeed, she made an impromptu remark at a press reception last month that she monitors the virus spread much more closely than electoral matters. After drawing up the plan to put off LegCo election, she said that she needed the support of the central authorities in Beijing to make it happen. Fortunate to her, the Chinese Central Authority has fully endorsed her plan on the grounds that it was mapped out in compliance with the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs the HKSAR, and satisfies the crucial interest of the local community. Following the official procedures, the State Council has submitted this poll postponement proposal to be considered for approval by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) which was scheduled to meet in Beijing on August 8-11.

It would not be difficult to realise the terrible distractions to the Chinese Central Authority and the HKSAR leaderships created every day by the US-led blatant blasting against the new national security legislation and the poll postponement. Yet, the real and impending issue requiring cautious resolution is bound up with the legal gaps resulting from the LegCo election being put on hold for one year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the Basic Law, the LegCo term is mandated to last four years, and the current one is due to expire on September 30. The key question thus remains: whether to extend the present LegCo term by one year or establish a provisional legislature. This is precisely the vital decision which the CE has asked Beijing to make authoritatively.

Against this intertwining background, the discussion item pertaining to the arrangement for the continued functioning of the HKSAR LegCo was reported to have been added onto the NPCSC meeting agenda over the past four days. In practice, it has fallen to the NPCSC to address decisively the HKSAR legislature's lacuna arising from the poll deferral proposal.

Group sessions are understood to have been held to examine the proposal in point, and the 164 delegates present voted unanimously yesterday in favour of the resolution to extend the current sixth term of the HKSAR LegCo by no less than one year in order to keep the incumbent legislature to continue to abide by its duties. Members having completed the present term on the LegCo are authorised to serve the extended term until a newly elected legislature will be in place, presumably in September 2021. This is an in-principle decision taken by China's top legislature based on its powers to interpret the HKSAR's Basic Law, and the relevant details are delegated to the city's leadership to work out and follow through.

Judged in perspective, the resolution adopted by the NPCSC provides a win-win way out for HK. By plugging the legal gaps thus involved, the strategy enables the city to go ahead under the rule of law. In its primary context, the LegCo election postponement was mooted and pursued on the underlying rationale for shunning the severe and deadly impact of the deteriorating Covid-19 epidemic. This policy intention is in the genuine interest of the local community at large. To people with a conscientious spirit at heart, there cannot be any denial that saving human lives must take precedence over any other big things, let alone politics. And a recent remark by one medical expert has it that " we have drained all of our resources against this invisible enemy (Covid-19 epidemic), and time is running out."

Further to that, the NPCSC's thinking and approach in handling this HKSAR issue display substantial leniency and flexibility, with least disruption to the city's autonomy, constitutional order and rule of law. The seventh term of the LegCo will maintain the usual lengthy of four years. Nonetheless, there is always shouting to the contrary. The top national legislature in the capital has been careful in avoiding controversies by not determining the details of the resolution that was passed. For instance, it has raised no objection for continued serving by the four pan-democrats in the existing LegCo who have been barred from seeking re-election by the public election officers on grounds of their dubious loyalty to the Basic Law and the National Security Law. It is also up to the HKSAR to decide if the LegCo members are required to swear in for the additional term. The latest advice from the local government indicates that this oath-taking duty is not obligatory.

With this high political accommodation and trust for the notable opposition personalities, is it still not the right time for the political parties to patch up their differences and work harmoniously together in the LegCo and District Councils for the vital interests of the HK society. The Central Government has not even made use of this "golden opportunity" to alter the LegCo memberships in its total favour, such as by introducing a provisional legislature or a caretaking legislative assembly. The olive branches so tacitly handed out should be accepted for resuming the peaceful and constructive functioning of the LegCo as an effective watchdog of the government. This will help enhance public confidence in this top public decision-making body in HK, thereby enthusing the electorate to go to the polls in September next year.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of Orange News.




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