|Interview of Deng Zhonghua, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, on the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) adopted by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee|
Question 1: What is the legislative intention of the NPC Standing Committee's amendments to Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law of the HKSAR? What principles were followed in the amendments?
Answer: This morning, the NPC Standing Committee adopted the amendments to Annexes I and II to the Basic Law of the HKSAR. This was carried out under the authorization of the NPC decision on improving the electoral system of the HKSAR to fully revise the methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of the HKSAR. The amended annexes specify the composition and formation method of the Election Committee, the new methods for the selection of the Chief Executive and for the formation of the LegCo, and the operating mechanism of the candidate eligibility review committee, among others.
The main purpose of revising and improving the electoral system of the HKSAR is to plug the loopholes in the electoral system, and develop a democratic system that suits Hong Kong's actual situation, meets the requirements for the implementation of One Country, Two Systems, and has Hong Kong characteristics.
The revisions embody the following principles:
First, uphold China's sovereignty, security and development interests and ensure Hong Kong residents' lawful right to vote and to stand for election, in strict accordance with the Constitution, the Basic Law and the NPC decision.
Second, comprehensively implement the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" to keep the power to administer firmly in the hands of patriots and provide solid institutional guarantee for the continued success of the policy of One Country, Two Systems.
Third, broaden the representation of the Election Committee and the LegCo, expand the balanced and orderly political participation of Hong Kong society, and safeguard the overall and fundamental interests of Hong Kong society.
Fourth, ensure effective cooperation between the executive authorities and the legislature, improve the governance efficacy of the HKSAR, and reduce in-fighting and political wrestling, so that the government and all sectors of the HKSAR can focus their energy on developing the economy and improving living standards, and safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
Therefore, revising and improving the HKSAR's electoral system this time is an effort to optimize and develop Hong Kong's democratic system.
Question 2: The core of the move to improve the electoral system of Hong Kong is the reformation and greater empowerment of the Election Committee of the HKSAR. Would you please explain the main content of the improvements and the reasons behind the changes?
Answer: The NPC Standing Committee's amendments to the annexes aim primarily to adjust and optimize the composition of the Election Committee and empower the committee with new functions.
First, the membership of the Election Committee is enlarged from 1,200 to 1,500.
Second, the number of sectors is increased from four to five. "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" are listed as the fifth sector. This will enhance the representation of national interests in the Election Committee. Such change will better enable the Election Committee, in the performance of its duties, to consider issues from the perspectives of both the country and Hong Kong and make choices in the interests of both the country and Hong Kong.
Third, the delimitation of Election Committee subsectors is adjusted and improved, and the number is increased from 38 to 40. For example, a new subsector, "small and medium enterprises," is added to the first sector. Two subsectors, "grassroots organizations" and "associations of Chinese fellow townsmen", are added to the third sector. A subsector "representatives of associations of Hong Kong residents in the Mainland" is added to the fourth sector. A subsector "representatives of Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations" is included in the fifth sector. Some original subsectors are merged or adjusted.
These adjustments are made in response to the social, political and economic development and changes in Hong Kong. They reflect the principle of balanced participation and give grassroots representatives a greater voice in the Election Committee.
As for the greater empowerment, the Election Committee, apart from its original function of nominating and electing the Chief Executive, will have two more key functions: elect a relatively large proportion of LegCo members and participate in the nomination of all candidates for LegCo members. Such arrangements are designed to make the LegCo more representative and ensure more balanced public participation by all sectors. They will help ensure that the LegCo can better represent the overall interests of Hong Kong society as well as the interests of various sectors and constituencies.
Question 3: Under the new electoral system, members of the LegCo will be returned by the Election Committee, by functional constituencies, and by geographical constituencies through direct elections, and the numbers of seats allocated to each category are 40, 30 and 20. Why are the seats distributed in this way?
Answer: As Vice Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee Wang Chen mentioned in the explanations on the draft NPC decision on improving the electoral system of the HKSAR on March 5, the Election Committee will be empowered to return a "relatively large share" of LegCo members. The "relatively large share" here means that LegCo members returned by the Election Committee shall outnumber those returned through either of the other means.
When competent departments of the central authorities solicited views from all sectors of Hong Kong society, the majority view was that the numbers of seats allocated to each category should be 40, 30 and 20. The NPC Standing Committee accepted this view.
It is stipulated in the amendment to Annex II to the Basic Law that the LegCo of the HKSAR shall be composed of 90 members for each term. Among them, 40 shall be returned by the Election Committee, 30 shall be returned by functional constituencies and 20 shall be returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections.
The consideration behind this institutional design is that LegCo members returned by the Election Committee would represent the overall interests of Hong Kong society, those returned by functional constituencies would represent the interests of various sectors, and those returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections would represent the interests of their constituencies.
With more members returned by the Election Committee than by functional constituencies or by geographical constituencies, the LegCo can better represent the overall interests of Hong Kong society.
In addition, LegCo members returned by the Election Committee share the same voter basis with the Chief Executive. To put it another way, they are all elected by the Election Committee.
Such seat distribution is conducive to maintaining a majority inside the LegCo that supports the Chief Executive. It will facilitate smooth communication between the executive authorities and the legislature and help safeguard and implement the executive-led system.
Question 4: Under the amended Annex I to the Basic Law, members of District Councils are not included in the sector "representatives of district organizations". And under the new Annex II, no seat is reserved for members of District Councils (first and second) in the LegCo. What is the consideration in making such changes? How will they affect the status and functions of District Councils?
Answer: District Councils are district-based organizations in Hong Kong. They are supposed to function in accordance with the Basic Law. However, in recent years, District Councils have seriously deviated from their functions and nature prescribed by Article 97 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that District Councils are "district organizations which are not organs of political power" and may "be consulted by the government of the Region on district administration and other affairs". A main factor contributing to this deviation is the fact that a large proportion of members of District Councils became members of the Election Committee, and that they took up a large number of seats in the LegCo. This virtually changed the nature and status of District Councils and enabled them to exert excessive influence on the political life of the HKSAR. District Councils were even abused by some people to oppose China and destablize Hong Kong. In order that District Councils restore their status as defined by the Basic Law, it is imperative to cancel their members' seats in the Election Committee and the LegCo, and make them less politically oriented. This was called for by many people of Hong Kong society when competent departments of the central authorities solicited their views and suggestions. The NPC Standing Committee adopted this suggestion after careful consideration. The amendment will bring District Councils back on track so that they can play their due role of serving local communities. Funded by the government, District Councils should concentrate on promoting the well-being of grassroots communities, provide valuable and constructive suggestions to the HKSAR government, and work as a bridge connecting the government and ordinary people. We will never allow District Councils to mutate into a platform for opposing China and destabilizing Hong Kong.
Question 5: Some believe that in improving the electoral system of the HKSAR, much emphasis has been put on institutional safeguards. Apart from establishing a candidate eligibility review committee, the amendments also provide that the Election Committee shall be responsible for nominating candidates for the office of Chief Executive and participate in nominating candidates for LegCo members. This means it will not be easy to become a candidate. What are the considerations behind such a design? Under the new system, is there still any space for the opposition to participate in administering Hong Kong? Can Hong Kong maintain its political culture of pluralism and inclusiveness in the future?
Answer: Pursuant to the decision adopted by the NPC on March 11 and the amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law, a candidate eligibility review committee of the HKSAR shall be established to review and confirm the eligibility of candidates for Election Committee members, the office of Chief Executive, and LegCo members. The purpose is to ensure that the candidates meet not only the general eligibility requirements on age, nationality, permanent residency, and criminal record, but also the legal requirements and conditions of upholding the Basic Law of the HKSAR and swearing allegiance to the HKSAR, so as to fully implement the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong".
It is stipulated that the Election Committee shall be responsible for nominating candidates for the office of Chief Executive and participate in nominating candidates for LegCo members. This is meant to make the candidates more representative and enable the nomination of candidates to transcend the interests of any specific sector, group or geographical constituency. For those who intend to stand for election, they must have the endorsement of their own sectors or constituencies, and they must also enjoy a certain level of support from each of the sectors of the Election Committee. For candidates, either for the office of Chief Executive or for members of the LegCo, their election programs must reflect the interests and demands of various sectors and constituencies, and they must have the ability to work with different sectors and interest groups. This will ensure that the elected Chief Executive or LegCo members are competent patriots who are truly qualified, broadly representative and widely accepted, and that they perform their duties not only in the interests of different sectors, groups or geographical constituencies, but also in the overall interests of Hong Kong society and the fundamental interests of Hong Kong residents. This gives full expression to the principle of balanced participation enshrined in the Basic Law.
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, has pointed out that to ensure the continued success of the policy of One Country, Two Systems, we must always uphold the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong". This principle is a core element and essential requirement of One Country, Two Systems. On Feb. 22, Comrade Xia Baolong delivered a speech on comprehensively implementing the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" and ensuring the continued success of the policy of One Country, Two Systems. In his speech, Xia elaborated on the criteria and requirements for upholding "patriots administering Hong Kong". He also emphasized the imperative to set the bar higher for patriotism in the case of individuals who hold key public offices, are vested with important powers, and shoulder major responsibilities of administration. The development of democracy in Hong Kong must never run counter to the fundamental principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong". The move to amend and improve the electoral system of the HKSAR by the NPC and its Standing Committee aims to incorporate the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" into law and establish relevant institutions. It also aims to exclude those who oppose China and destabilize Hong Kong from the governance structure of the HKSAR and prevent them from continuing to sit in the LegCo and openly engaging in anti-China and destabilizing activities. That said, our emphasis on "patriots administering Hong Kong" does not mean that we will seek "uniformity" or "one voice only", nor does it mean that no different or opposing opinions can be voiced about the work of the HKSAR government. Anyone with the intent to stand for election may participate and get elected pursuant to the law, if they meet the requirements for "patriots", obtain enough nominations and have their eligibility confirmed by the candidate eligibility review committee. Hong Kong will maintain its political culture of pluralism and inclusiveness.
Question 6: How will the amendments to the methods for selecting the HKSAR Chief Executive and for forming the LegCo impact Hong Kong? Will there still be universal suffrage in Hong Kong?
Answer: The amendments to Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law, passed by the NPC Standing Committee, mark the completion of the work of revising and improving the electoral system of the HKSAR at the state level. As a next step, the HKSAR shall amend relevant local laws as soon as possible and organize elections accordingly to ensure the effective implementation in the HKSAR of the "decision plus amendment" approach adopted by the NPC and its Standing Committee.
For years, two major institutional problems have haunted Hong Kong. First, the HKSAR had long been "unguarded" in terms of national security because of the absence of the legislation required by Article 23 of the Basic Law. Second, social disputes and division have intensified due to long-standing uncertainties in Hong Kong's constitutional development. With the implementation of the law on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and the new electoral system, these two problems will be effectively addressed and risks and vulnerabilities hampering Hong Kong's political stability and security will be eliminated. Hong Kong is expected to be freed from prolonged political wrestling and confrontation, and it will be able to concentrate on improving the people's livelihood and promoting development. Hong Kong will have a better future and Hong Kong people will lead a better life.
As for the future development of Hong Kong's democracy, I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that the NPC Standing Committee has amended Annex I and Annex II to the Basic Law but has not revised its Articles 45 and 68. The two articles make clear the ultimate aim of selecting the Chief Executive and electing all LegCo members by universal suffrage, which will be achieved in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. This shows that the central authorities remain committed to advancing the development of Hong Kong's democratic system and will work with people from all walks of life in Hong Kong to create enabling conditions for the ultimate realization of "dual universal suffrage".
Question 7: The amended Annex I stipulates that the candidate eligibility review committee is tasked with vetting and confirming the eligibility of candidates for Election Committee members and for the office of Chief Executive. The Election Committee is composed of elected members, ex-officio members and nominated members. Does the vetting and confirming mechanism cover the eligibility of the ex-officio and nominated members? If so, which body is responsible for that? And what procedures should it follow?
Answer: The provisions on eligibility review and confirmation apply to all Election Committee members, including ex-officio, nominated and elected members. In another word, ex-officio and nominated members should also meet the legal requirements and conditions of upholding the Basic Law of the HKSAR and swearing allegiance to the HKSAR. It is also up to the candidate eligibility review committee of the HKSAR to confirm whether they are eligible.
Unlike elected members, ex-officio members acquire membership based on their specific capacity and nominated members join the Election Committee through particular nomination procedures. Therefore, the procedures for confirming their eligibility are somewhat different from the eligibility review mechanism for elected members. This is why the amended Annex I does not stipulate the procedures for confirming the eligibility of ex-officio or nominated members. Such procedures will be specified by the HKSAR through local legislation.
The relevant electoral registration body of the HKSAR should, at an appropriate time during the preparation or publication of the register of Election Committee members, submit the name list of ex-officio and nominated members to the candidate eligibility review committee for eligibility confirmation. In this process, the review committee may, when necessary, consult the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR as to whether a listed individual meets the legal requirements and conditions of upholding the Basic Law of the HKSAR and swearing allegiance to the HKSAR and handle the case in accordance with Section 8 of the amended Annex I. To be more specific, the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR shall, on the basis of the review by the department for safeguarding national security of the Hong Kong Police Force, make findings as to whether a listed individual meets these legal requirements and conditions and issue an opinion to the review committee in respect of an individual who fails to meet such legal requirements and conditions. No legal proceedings may be instituted against a decision on eligibility made by the review committee pursuant to the opinion of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR.
Question 8: According to stipulations in the amended Annex I and Annex II, the definition of eligible corporate voters for relevant subsectors of the Election Committee and for relevant functional constituencies of the LegCo shall be prescribed by the electoral law of the HKSAR. What factors should the HKSAR take into consideration when defining eligible corporate voters?
Answer: As prescribed by the amended Annex I and Annex II, an association or enterprise may become a corporate voter for a subsector or functional constituency only if it has been operating for not less than three years after acquiring relevant qualifications for that subsector or functional constituency, unless otherwise specified by the electoral law of the HKSAR. These provisions make clear the basic requirements for defining eligible corporate voters. In other words, first, relevant associations must have a substantial connection with their respective subsectors of the Election Committee or functional constituencies of the LegCo, and should be in continuous operation for a certain period of time. Second, relevant associations should be representative of their subsectors or functional constituencies. Third, as the purpose of improving the electoral system of the HKSAR is to better implement the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong", this principle should be reflected in defining eligible corporate voters. All in all, the HKSAR must bear in mind these three points when defining eligible corporate voters. Only in this way can the original purpose of relevant institutional designs be served.