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HONG KONG HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR

4/F Kam Tak Building, 20 Mercer Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Phone: (852) 2811-4488    Fax: (852) 2802-6012
Email: contact@hkhrm.org.hk    Website: http://www.hkhrm.org.hk

Chairperson: Paul Harris     Deputy Chairpersons: John Clancey & Vivian To     Treasurer: Lai Wing Yiu     Secretary: Dr. Stephen Ng
Founder members: Johannes Chan   John Kamm   Phillip Ross   Ho Hei Wah   Andrew Byrnes   Charles Mok   Paul Harris   Christine Loh   Dr Stephen Ng
Director: Law Yuk Kai    Organiser: Ida Tse    Education & Project Officer: Kit Chan    Executive Officer: Ivy Fung & Poon King Yin



For immediate release
Enquiries:  9788 3394 or 2811 4488 LAW Yuk Kai (director)

Stop Wrecking Elected Representation


(Hong Kong: 26 November 2003) The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor calls on the Hong Kong SAR Government to implement meaningful democratic reforms or else face serious challenges from society.

In particular, Human Rights Monitor urges the Chief Executive immediately to introduce legislation to abolish the appointment system, a system which had been discarded as demonstrably undemocratic by the outgoing British colonial government but revived by Tung's Administration.

If the Government fails to act on this, Human Rights Monitor will ask its members who are also Legislative Councillors to introduce legislation before the end of the year to abolish the appointment system. We believe that any attempt by the Chief Executive to block such a Bill would be reflected in an enormously increased protest in the 1 January 2004 Call for Democracy Procession. (We understand that pro-democracy political parties will also organise another demonstration in protest against appointment soon.)

"It is important that the calls for democratic reforms by the people expressed in the District Council elections be heard and honoured," said Law Yuk-Kai, the director of Human Rights Monitor. "An unprecedented voter turnout and the strong support for pro-democracy political candidates indicate the need for the Government to take democratic reforms seriously." 1  81% of the respondents in the exit poll, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, supported universal suffrage for returning the Chief Executive in 2007 while 84% supported universal suffrage for the whole Legislative Council in 2008.

"It is a mockery of basic democratic principles that the elected representation in District Council elections is to be wrecked by the Chief Executive by means of appointing members to District Councils. How could it be just and fair for a million voters to elect 400 persons while the Chief Executive alone could appoint 100? In fact even the appointment of a single member of the District Council would inevitably distort the elected representation. The only right thing to do is for the Chief Executive not to exercise the power of appointment at all," said Law.

Section 9(1) of the District Councils Ordinance at present provides that a District Council is to consist of elected, appointed and, in those districts with Rural Committees, ex officio members (who are the Chairman of each such Rural Committee while holding office as the Chairman).2 Section 11 empowers the Chief Executive to appoint members to each District Council subject to a statutory maximum number provided for in Schedule 3.3  It provides that the Chief Executive may, not must, appoint members, subject to the statutory maximum. There is no minimum number specified in the Ordinance he is required to appoint although it would appear that in order for the Council to consist of elected and appointed members a minimum of one appointed member is required on each Council. In the case of vacancies of appointed seats it is also not mandatory that he has to appoint any substitutes to have the seats filled (Section 16(2)). Section 72 provides that vacancies in the membership of a District Council do not affect its power to transact business.4  Section 72 also clarifies that the validity of proceedings of a District Council are not affected by vacancies in the membership of the District Council, including vacancies in its membership when it first meets after an ordinary election. Therefore a District Council can operate validly without any appointed members being present at a particular meeting.

The public should be reminded that people who were appointed by Chief Executive Tung Chi-hwa to District Councils after the 1999 District Council elections consisted of predominantly pro-Government personalities. These appointees were given the power to elect, with other District Council members, 42 persons to join the 800-election committee responsible for the election of the Chief Executive.

In the 1999 District Council appointment exercise, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong was rewarded with 12 seats, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance got 12, and the Liberal Party got 9 (the pro-democracy parties of course got none). The parties rewarded with appointed seats later supported Tung in his bid for his second term. Furthermore, the Government successfully got 16 of the all (18) wrecked District Councils to resolve in support of Article 23 legislation even though such resolutions could hardly said to be representative of Hong Kong people's stances on this issue.

There is no justification for appointing members to a local representative body. Even if this is not done to deliberately defeat the democratic will, it still involves giving power to people who have not put themselves before the electorate. It might once have been acceptable in a society where democratic institutions were in their infancy. It is unacceptable in modern Hong Kong.

Human Rights Monitor warns the Government that if it again fails to listen to reason, it will have to prepare to listen to mounting pressure. Public processions are being organised by political parties and civil society groups to demand democratic reform. Failure of the Government to address these important issues will only fuel such protests and deepen non-cooperation from the public. Unless the Government accepts that the District Councils must reflect the will of the people who have voted for them it will wreck the working of the Councils and ultimately damage its authority as well as damaging Hong Kong.

footnote
  1. 44.06% of the voters, i.e. 1,065,363 persons, cast their votes in the District Council Elections on 23 November 2003.
  2. The quorum requirement makes no reference to different type of members. Section 70 provides, "The quorum of a District Council is not less than half the members of the Council holding office for the time being."
  3. Section 11: "The Chief Executive may appoint as members of a District Council a number of persons not exceeding the number specified in column 4 of Part I of Schedule 3 in relation to that District Council."
  4. Although the original text of Section 72 refer to "vacancy" in singular form, it applies equally well to cases involving many vacancies by virtue of Section 7 of the Interpretation And General Clauses Ordinance which provides, "Words and expressions in the singular include the plural and words and expressions in the plural include the singular."