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HONG KONG HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR

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For immediate release
Press contact:  Mr. Law Yuk-Kai, Director  (852) 2811 4488
 

PROGRESS AT ORWELLIAN SPEED


(Hong Kong: 27 April 2004)  Article 68 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law promises “gradual and orderly progress” in the method of forming the Hong Kong Legislative Council, with the ultimate aim of the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage.

The announcement yesterday by the National People’s Congress in Beijing that in the Hong Kong’s 2008 Legislative Council there would be no increase in the proportion of directly elected seats breaks that promise.

It also breaks the promise by the HKSAR Government that there would be a genuine consultation about political reform and that Hong Kong people’s views would be fully taken into account.

In 2000 the number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council was increased from 20 to 24 (out of a total of 60).  This year, under provisions in Annex 2 of the Basic Law, the number increases from 24 to 30.

Yesterday’s announcement halts any further move towards universal suffrage. In ordinary language, progress, however slow, implies forward movement. Standing still is not progress, except in the Orwellian world of totalitarian double-speak.

Orwellian double-speak was much in evidence at yesterday’s forum in Hong Kong’s International Trade Centre where representatives from Beijing announced the decision. Questions from the floor were not allowed, but pre-selected speakers were allowed to express their support for the decision. One, former Solicitor-General Daniel Fung, was reported as having said that the true spirit of democracy did not require universal suffrage, but was concerned with the protection of minorities.  The conclusion which Mr Fung appeared to be drawing was that Hong Kong’s functional constituencies (where doctors elect a doctor, lawyers elect a lawyer, and property developers elect a property developer etc.) was a form of protection of minorities and should therefore continue indefinitely.

Hong Kong is alone in the world in maintaining functional constituencies.  They were used by Mussolini in Fascist Italy, and by the City Council of the International Settlement in Shanghai.  The minorities they represent are, with a few exceptions, the privileged minorities. They have nothing in common with constitutional arrangements designed to safeguard minorities who are at risk of oppression or persecution by a majority.  They have been rightly abolished elsewhere in the world because they prevent Government being accountable to the people.  In Hong Kong they have been extended and made more pernicious by provisions allowing unregulated voting by limited companies in many functional constituencies, and by restrictive franchises which ensure, for example, that in the “transport functional constituency” only owners of transport businesses can vote, and not those who work in such businesses.

The minorities represented in the functional constituencies have their legitimate interests and concerns adequately protected by the rule of law and the right to vote. The special additional privileges they are being given by the functional constituency system are a complete negation of the letter and the spirit of democracy.

Another myth promoted by Beijing’s representatives yesterday was that the functional constituencies were in some way equivalent to Britain’s unelected House of Lords and therefore legitimate.  However they failed to mention that for the last 94 years the British House of Lords has only had power to delay legislation approved by the popularly elected House of Commons and not to block it. If a bill voted down in the Lords is again passed by the Commons the Lords are required to pass it.

A degree of delay built into a democratic system provides time for reflection and correction of hasty mistakes. This is why most democracies have bicameral legislatures. This is something fundamentally different from setting up a system where the will of those popularly elected is permanently blocked.  This system, which Hong Kong has now, is a recipe for confrontation, instability, paralysed government, and polarisation of society.

As well as breaking promises about progress and consultation, yesterday’s decision clearly showed that Hong Kong is to be subjected to the full Communist authoritarian tradition, in which those who do not slavishly follow the Party line will be demonised as enemies, bullied and treated with contempt.

Mr Qiao Xiaoyang in his speech was reported as saying that Beijing was very concerned about Hong Kong politicians who were not patriotic.  This is more Orwellian double-speak. It means that strong Chinese patriots such as Legislative Councillor Szeto Wah, who are also strong democrats and so implacably opposed to Communism, will never be allowed by Beijing to hold power in Hong Kong.  It therefore means that so long as Hong Kong people are inclined to elect people like Mr Szeto, they will not be allowed to elect their chosen representatives to govern them.

Some Beijing representatives have gone so far as to make the paternalistic comment that Hong Kong people are not mature enough for democracy. These representatives should appreciate the basic fact that Beijing is not a parent and Hong Kong people are not children. Hong Kong people are one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan electorates in the world. They are best placed to decide what form of Government is best for their city. Beijing is no more qualified to tell Hong Kong what electoral system is best for it than to tell Hong Kong how to prevent a SARS epidemic.

Human Rights Monitor believes that without democracy no other rights are guaranteed; that the lack of democracy will inevitably lead to the erosion of free speech and the rule of law; and that instead of being an international city comparable to the most advanced in the world Hong Kong will drift into being an authoritarian, corrupt and second-rate city like many in Mainland China.

Human Rights Monitor calls on Hong Kong people and our friends and well-wishers around the world to protest as strongly as possible at the lack of democracy in Hong Kong, and to maintain that protest until democracy is achieved.