New checks coming for candidates for elections

Top News | Michael Shum and Maisy Mok 23 Feb 2021

The National People's Congress could empower a more authoritative body, instead of electoral officers, to vet candidates for Hong Kong elections, political commentator Lau Siu-kai says.

The head of the Hong Kong and Macau Office, Xia Baolong, stopped short of spelling out the changes to be introduced to ensure patriots rule the city through the electoral system, but Lau expected the changes to be set out by the NPC standing committee to check the eligibility of candidates.

Under the current system, it is up to returning officers of the Home Affairs Department, who are civil servants, to decide if a person can stand in a Legislative Council or district council election.

"Relying on returning officers to vet candidates might not be appropriate as their decision could be challenged by judicial reviews," Lau said.

He believed the NPCSC will take up the task of formulating more authoritative guidelines to be implemented in coming elections for Legco, district councils and the election committee to elect the chief executive.

He believed the city will no longer follow the five-step plan laid down in the Basic Law for constitutional reform after Xia's speech that Beijing is determined to reform Hong Kong's electoral system.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution and an interpretation by the NPCSC in 2004 says political reform has to go through five steps, which require the chief executive to submit a report about the reform to the standing committee before it decides the method of the reform.

But Lau dismissed claims that the changes in the electoral system breached the Basic Law as he said such reforms could be raised by the Hong Kong chief executive but the political system could also be set out by the central government according to China's constitution.

Political commentator Ivan Choy Tsz-keung also expected the NPCSC to directly deal with the electoral reform, instead of going through the five-step procedure as Beijing did not have time to waste.

Meanwhile, Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said the elections in Hong Kong will be close to an appointment system after the reform, and it is hard for him to predict if the pro-democracy camp could still run in future elections.

Former lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin from the Democratic Party, who resigned with other pro-democracy lawmakers en masse in November, said the criteria is too vague and it is completely up to Beijing to decide the candidates.

"There is only one conclusion that could be deduced from Xia's speech at the very end - the decision to let you live or kill you will be in the hands of Beijing. These principles or criteria are just creating some talking points," Wan said.

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