|Interview of Zhang Yong, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, on the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) adopted by the NPC Standing Committee|
Question 1: In the morning of March 30, the NPC Standing Committee adopted the amendments to Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of the HKSAR. Would you please summarize the changes and share with us the considerations behind them?
Answer: At its 27th session this morning, the Standing Committee of the 13th NPC adopted the amendments to Annex I: Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR and Annex II: Method for the Formation of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of the HKSAR and its Voting Procedures, to the Basic Law. The adoption of the amendments marked the completion of the work of the NPC and its Standing Committee in relying on constitutional power to revise and improve the electoral system of the HKSAR at the state level, following a "decision plus amendment" approach. It has profound political, constitutional and legal significance.
On March 11, the fourth session of the 13th NPC adopted a decision on improving the electoral system of the HKSAR. The decision set the basic principles and core elements in improving the electoral system of the HKSAR. It also authorized the NPC Standing Committee to amend Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law. Today's adoption of the amendments is the full implementation of the requirements set by that decision.
The newly amended Annex I to the Basic Law has 12 articles, and Annex II has nine articles. With the titles, formats and structures basically kept, the annexes are amended to have more substance and become more practicable. The amendments particularly focus on fixing institutional loopholes found in the election practices since the return of Hong Kong to the motherland. The following are five main aspects of the amendments:
First, reconstruct the Election Committee, specify issues such as its size, composition, term of office and qualifications of its members, and further expand the representation of the Election Committee. The size of the Election Committee is expanded to 1,500 members from the original 1,200. The committee shall be composed of 300 members each from five sectors, instead of four. The term of office of the committee is five years, and all its members must be permanent residents of the HKSAR.
Second, specify subsectors, the allocation of Election Committee members in various subsectors within each of the five sectors, as well as the method for returning Election Committee members. The amendment aims to make the Election Committee more representative, so as to further enhance the balanced participation of all walks of life of the Hong Kong society. The First Sector, or industrial, commercial and financial sectors, has 18 subsectors; the Second Sector, or the professions, has 10 subsectors; the Third Sector, or the grassroots, labour, religious and other sectors, has five subsectors; the Fourth Sector, or LegCo members and representatives of district organizations and other organizations, has five subsectors; and the Fifth Sector, or HKSAR deputies to the NPC, HKSAR members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and representatives of Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations, has two subsectors. The three methods of selecting Election Committee members remain unchanged, which include ex-officio members, nominated members and elected members.
Third, improve and expand the roles of the Election Committee to improve the executive-legislature relationship and better facilitate the executive-led system. It could be summarized in three words: preserve, restore, and expand. The Election Committee's role to elect Chief Executive designate is preserved; its role to elect some of LegCo members is restored. The committee is assigned with the new responsibility of nominating candidates for LegCo members.
Fourth, stipulate the electoral systems of the Chief Executive and the LegCo. The electoral system of Chief Executive is basically preserved. Adjustments are made to the nomination mechanisms to ensure the post of the Chief Executive is taken only by staunch patriots. Improve the electoral system of the LegCo to better balance the overall interests of the Hong Kong society, the interests of different sectors and districts. The number of LegCo members is increased from 70 to 90. The numbers of members returned by the Election Committee, functional constituencies and by geographical constituencies through direct elections will be 40, 30 and 20, respectively. Detailed stipulations are also made for the nomination of candidates, the qualification of electors, and the method of election in the LegCo elections.
Fifth, establish a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee to ensure "patriots administering Hong Kong," and prevent anti-China, destabilizing elements from entering the body of power of the HKSAR. The committee shall be responsible for reviewing and confirming the eligibility of candidates who stand for elections of the Election Committee, Chief Executive, and LegCo.
The amended annexes have also made stipulations regarding the voting procedures of the LegCo and the power of amendment of the two annexes. The amendments also require the HKSAR to amend relevant local electoral law to elaborate on the details and organize election activities accordingly.
Utilizing constitutional power to improve the electoral system of the HKSAR at the state level is a major move of the NPC and its Standing Committee in implementing the requirement to uphold and improve the system of institutions for "one country, two systems," which is laid out at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The significance of the move is exemplified in the following three aspects.
First, it adheres to the fundamental objective of "one country, two systems" and consolidates the constitutional basis of the HKSAR. Safeguarding the country's unity and territorial integrity as well as Hong Kong's prosperity and stability is the fundamental objective of the "one country, two systems" policy. The Constitution and the Basic Law have provided solid constitutional basis and legal safeguards for the realization of this objective. However, the situation in recent years proved that the operation of political system in the HKSAR had shown signs of deviating from, and even jeopardizing the fundamental objective of "one country, two systems." Particularly, anti-China, destabilizing elements had made their way into the body of power by taking advantages of the loopholes in the HKSAR's electoral system, posing major and immediate threats to national sovereignty, security and development interests. Therefore, the central authorities have the power and responsibility to revise and improve Hong Kong's electoral system, so as to bring the practice of "one country, two systems" back on the right track and maintain long-term and steady development.
Second, it fixes the loopholes in the electoral system and ensures patriots administer Hong Kong. Whoever elected to administer must be patriots. This is a fundamental premise of any political system and electoral system in any country and region. The most direct and significant purposes of the NPC and its Standing Committee in improving Hong Kong's electoral system are as follows: to effectively plug the loopholes and fix the weak links in the HKSAR electoral system; to make sure that the Chief Executive post is only taken by staunch patriots trusted by the central authorities; to make sure those who love the country and Hong Kong have a firm and overwhelming majority in the Election Committee and the LegCo; and guarantee that anti-China and destabilizing forces cannot enter the body of power of the HKSAR in any circumstance. In this way, we have provided fortified, safe and reliable institutional guarantees to ensure patriots administer Hong Kong.
Third, it enhances the efficacy of the administration of the HKSAR, and promotes gradual and systematical development of democracy. As early as more than three decades ago when the Basic Law was being drafted, it had been proposed that executive authorities and legislature in the HKSAR should balance and check with each other, and maintain a cooperative relationship. It had also been proposed that the Chief Executive should hold actual power in order to maintain Hong Kong's stability and executive efficiency.
Yet in recent years, executive organs and the legislature in Hong Kong were mired in long-standing confrontation, and the LegCo, plagued by in-fighting, failed to perform its duties. The efficacy of society administration slumped and the development of democracy halted. The situation called for improving the HKSAR political system, particularly its electoral system, optimizing the governance system, and steadily improving the overall administration performance of the HKSAR. That way, Hong Kong can focus on economic growth, raise living standards, solve the deep-seated problems it has faced in a prolonged period, and promote democratic development suited to Hong Kong's actual situation, so as to lay foundation for universal suffrage, and realize durable stability through good governance.
Question 2: One of the focuses of the improvements is the reformation and greater empowerment of the Election Committee. How to understand the meaning of the "reformation" and "greater empowerment" of the committee?
Answer: The overarching approach for improving the electoral system of the HKSAR is as follows: The overall design of the system will be centered around the reformation and greater empowerment of the Election Committee.
There are a few key points to understand the "reformation." First, the name of the committee is changed from "Election Committee of the Chief Executive" to "Election Committee." Second, the membership of the Election Committee is enlarged from 1,200 to 1,500. Third, the number of sectors is increased from four to five. Fourth, the number of subsectors is also increased from 38 to 40 and some of the subsectors are adjusted and improved based on actual situation.
The "greater empowerment" means that the Chief Executive will continue to be elected by the Election Committee. The Election Committee will be entrusted with two more functions: elect a relatively large share of LegCo members and directly participate in the nomination of all candidates for the LegCo.
The reformation and greater empowerment of the Election Committee represent an improvement made based on the actual situation of Hong Kong. It is an important systemic adjustment coming from a comprehensive review of the previous practices during elections, as well as one of the emphases of the improvements of Hong Kong's electoral system this time.
With the size enlarged, number of sectors increased, subsectors adjusted and functions renewed, the Election Committee will be broader-based and more representative of the society, leading to more balanced public participation from all walks of life.
The Election Committee will better represent the overall and fundamental interests of the Hong Kong society, embody the strength of Hong Kong as an international, diversified and highly-developed capitalist society and conform to its status as a local administrative region coming directly under the Central People's Government.
Question 3: Before they were amended, Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law provided a "five-step" legal procedure. Will the procedure still be applicable after the new Annex I and Annex II are adopted?
Answer: First of all, the NPC and its Standing Committee's adoption of the "decision plus amendment" approach to improve the electoral system of the HKSAR is based on the central authorities' power of decision on the political system of the HKSAR. It is a legislative activity carried out by the NPC and its Standing Committee at the state level to exercise constitutional power, which is different in the constitutional and legal basis from the procedure for amendment stipulated in the former annexes, namely the "five-step" legal procedure.
As Vice Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee Wang Chen made clear in the explanations on the NPC draft decision on improving the electoral system in the HKSAR on March 5, upon the promulgation and entry into force of the amended Annex Ι and Annex II to the Basic Law, the previous annexes and their amendments will be simultaneously repealed. The amended Annex Ι and Annex II also stipulate that the new methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the LegCo will go into force starting March 31, 2021, and the previous Annex Ι, Annex II and their amendments will no longer be implemented. Therefore, the "five-step" legal procedure stipulated in the previous annexes shall cease to be applicable.
As further stipulated in the amended Annex I and Annex II, the NPC Standing Committee shall, in accordance with the law, exercise the power of amendment to the method for the selection of the Chief Executive and the method for the formation of the LegCo and its voting procedure. And before making amendments, the NPC Standing Committee shall solicit views from all sectors in Hong Kong by appropriate means. So if there is a need to amend the methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the LegCo in the future, it should follow the legal procedure stipulated in the amended annexes rather than the "five-step" procedure. And the so-called "dual-track" method won't happen.
What needs to be emphasized is that ensuring lawmaking is democratic, well-conceived, and law-based is the basic principle for the NPC and its Standing Committee to carry out legislative work. I believe that the NPC Standing Committee, amending the two annexes when necessary, will also follow the above basic principles, and as always, strictly go through legal procedures, widely solicit opinions, especially opinions and suggestions from all sectors of Hong Kong society.
Question 4: Is there still the goal of "dual universal suffrage" after the central authorities improved the electoral system of the HKSAR with the "decision plus amendment" approach?
Answer: The so-called goal of "dual universal suffrage" refers to the goal of democratic development stipulated in Article 45 and Article 68 of the HKSAR Basic Law. In general, the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive and the election of LegCo members by universal suffrage in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress.
The NPC Standing Committee amended only Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law this time, instead of its main body that includes the above-mentioned two articles. The goal of "dual universal suffrage" is still expressly prescribed by the HKSAR Basic Law and remains on the course that has been set for Hong Kong's democratic development. There is no change to this whatsoever. It has been taken into special consideration during the drafting of the Basic Law to stipulate in the form of annexes the selection method of the Chief Executive and formation method of the LegCo. Specific election matters may vary as the actual situation changes, and therefore appropriate adjustment is necessary. Such adjustment is more convenient due to the flexibility brought by the annexes. In fact, the two annexes had been revised in 2010.
The central government has been supporting and advancing democratic development in the HKSAR since Hong Kong's return. Back in December 2007, the NPC Standing Committee adopted a decision, stating that the selection of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR in the year 2017 may be implemented by universal suffrage, after which the election of LegCo members may also be implemented by universal suffrage. In August 2014, the NPC Standing Committee adopted another decision to further clarify the roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage for the selection of the Chief Executive and the election of LegCo members. In recent years, Hong Kong's democratic development has stalled and suffered from turmoil, making the goal of "dual universal suffrage" nowhere in sight. This is utterly the result of the intentional obstruction and sabotage by anti-China and destabilizing forces. I believe Hong Kong's democratic development will embark on a smoother journey and the goal of "dual universal suffrage" will be achieved at an earlier date after the electoral system of the HKSAR is improved and the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong” is fully realized.
Question 5: A Candidate Eligibility Review Committee will be established as per the amended Annex I and Annex II. Why?
Answer: A Candidate Eligibility Review Committee of the HKSAR shall be established. The committee shall be responsible for reviewing and confirming the eligibility of candidates for the Election Committee members, the Chief Executive, and the LegCo members. This institutional arrangement serves to ensure “patriots administering Hong Kong.” When opinions were solicited from an extensive range of people, many people from both the mainland and Hong Kong suggested a "safety valve" should be installed in the electoral system. This move is meant to prevent anti-China, destabilizing elements from using the electoral system to take up positions in the body of power of the HKSAR and to oppose China and destabilize Hong Kong. It shall keep the power to administer Hong Kong firmly in the hands of those who love the country.
The NPC took the opinions seriously. The decision adopted by the NPC on March 11 specially makes stipulations in this regard, and the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of the HKSAR further stipulate the procedure and requirement of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee.
Establishing the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee as an institution is an essential requirement for implementing the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong." The move reflects the common will of all Chinese people, including those from Hong Kong. As the next step, the HKSAR shall make further detailed improvement on this institution through local legislation in accordance with the NPC decision and the requirements of the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law.
Question 6: Next, the HKSAR is expected to revise its electoral law and organize elections in the region. What is your expectation on this matter?
Answer: The "decision plus amendment" move by the NPC and its Standing Committee is a legislation at the state level. The work of the next phase will focus on the regional legislation of the HKSAR, with two aspects to be enhanced. First the legislation process should be accelerated. Due to the upcoming elections, the HKSAR needs to finish revising its electoral law without delay to ensure the election of new government officials goes smoothly and the political structure functions effectively. I have noticed recent remarks by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to promote local legislation as soon as possible. Second, the alignment between legislation at the two levels should be accurate and effective. The relevant decision of the NPC and the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law stipulate basic principles, core elements and essential content of the HKSAR's electoral system at the state level, with broad space left for the regional legislation of the HKSAR. The HKSAR's legislation should be fully accurately and effectively in aligned with the NPC's decision and the amended Annex I and Annex II so that it can coordinate with the state-level legislation to develop a system of democratic elections that is helpful for ensuring "patriots administrating Hong Kong" and fits Hong Kong's actual situation.
In addition, it is stipulated in Article 17 of the Basic Law that laws enacted by the legislature of the HKSAR must be reported to the NPC Standing Committee for the record. The Chief Executive should report timely to the Central People's Government key events happened during the HKSAR government's organization of elections.