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Hong Kong is becoming semi-authoritarian, say experts

After Legislative Council passed controversial amendments to the rules of procedure, the road to democracy is difficult

Hong Kong is becoming semi-authoritarian, say experts
Participants at the symposium held by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Dec. 17. (Photo supplied)
ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

January 3, 2018

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Speakers at a symposium held by a Catholic commission claimed Hong Kong has stepped into a semi-authoritarian era that has brought a more difficult democratic road.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese recently held a 40th Anniversary Symposium with the topic of “Hong Kong’s Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law under Authoritarian Governance.”

Two days before the symposium, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed controversial amendments to the rules of procedure that allowed the quorum of the committee responsible for scrutinizing the bills to be reduced from 35 to 20.

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, a former lawmaker of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said at the symposium that the reduction would be unconstitutional and have a bad impact on the effectiveness of legislation. She claimed no one in the Legislative Council would be concerned.

She said the president, Democrats and Conservatives were not interested in reducing the constitutionality of the quorum.

She urged the Democrats to call for a judicial review but warned that it may take a lot of litigation costs and lead to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) interpreting the law.”

According to Article 75 of Hong Kong Basic Law, the quorum for the meeting of the Legislative Council should be not less than one half of all its members.

“In the past, the Basic Law was considered to be a written constitution, and though the NPCSC has the power to interpret, we felt that they would not make it go too far. But now they are increasingly ferocious, even ignoring principles of law and fair procedure, to do what they want to,” Ng said.

She was worried about how Hong Kong people could protect their properties, human rights and freedom in the future.

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, also said Hong Kong was moving towards a semi-authoritarian era.

“Before the 831 framework, we still had the chance to move towards democracy, but now Hong Kong has not been democratic but semi-authoritarian,” he said.

The NPCSC’s 831 framework for elections triggered the Occupy Central Campaign. 

The 831 decision refers to one made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in 2014 — that a 1,200-member election committee continue to decide chief executive elections and that only two to three candidates be able to run.

The decision was criticized by pro-democrats as not reflecting real universal suffrage because majority of citizens were deprived of the right to nominate people to the election committee. It led to the outbreak of the pro-democracy movement the same year.

Tai said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had made a lot of changes over the past six months after taking office but the territory seemed to be gradually moving towards an authoritarian era.

He said Hong Kong might not be able to reverse the situation in the short term “because China’s internal development also affects Hong Kong’s democratization, and it now appears that China President Xi Jinping is moving from a semi-authoritarian era to an authoritarian one.”

But Tai remains optimistic about mainland China and Hong Kong' democratic development. He suggested protesters work more to put democratic ideals into practice in districts and involve more citizens.

He said democrats might have different stances but should be united. “Unity is very important under authoritarian rule since it is the only way to oppose power,” he said.

Failure of Article 23 legislation in 2003 was due to citizens’ strength when 500,000 people took to the streets, he said.  

Hui Po-keung, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, said the public should be made to understand that democracy was the way to protect the “right to nonconformity.”

“That is the rights of minorities with the consent of the majority,” he explained.

He cited a recent story about students not standing for the national anthem. Under the protection of the right to nonconformity, their human rights and freedom were ensured not to be affected.

“The present political environment is weakening the voice of the minority,” he said.

Tai still believed that “although there is dark winter, God still creates daylight. The road to democracy in Hong Kong is long and we may not see any hopes, but we still insist.”

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