Carrie Lam defends value of Hong Kong's chief executive elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets with the press ahead of her Executive Council meeting on Tuesday (Jan 19).
PHOTO: May Tse

Hong Kong’s leader has distanced herself from her predecessor’s suggestion the city’s next chief executive could be selected without an electoral process.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday (Jan 19) 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.

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.

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 (Jan 20).

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.

Campaign officials monitor the counting process for 2017’s chief executive elections.
PHOTO: Sam Tsang

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.

Former Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung on Monday noted elections are not necessary to appoint the city’s leader.
PHOTO: Nora Tam

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 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.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, is expected to weigh the future of Hongkonger’s with BN(O) status this week.
PHOTO: Fung Chang

But she assured city 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.

“The great majority of the people of Hong Kong, even if they are holding a BN(O) passport, are Chinese citizens, and at the same time in procession of 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 for 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 are expected to debate Lam’s policy address on Wednesday.

The chief executive said because lawmakers had been focused on the pandemic since the annual blueprint was rolled out in November, the government would issue a report on Tuesday explaining what officials had done in the last two months.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post