South China Morning Post, March 20, 2001

Suen's bill secures CE's 'gerrymander'


By Martin Lee

The Chief Executive Elections Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council on March 14 by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Michael Suen Ming-yeung. It contains a number of provisions that are not in the Basic Law and so deserve close scrutiny by the Bills Committee.

Section 8 of the new bill provides that the Election Committee electing the Chief Executive in 2002 is the same committee that elected six legislators in September 2000. Thus, the people of Hong Kong have now been told officially, for the first time, that the 800 Election Committee members elected last July 2000 will be the only people entitled to elect the Chief Executive next year.

Mr. Suen said: "The Basic Law provisions are clear and unambiguous." But he failed to explain why he and the Government deliberately kept this important role of the Election Committee from the people of Hong Kong when the 800 electors were elected in July 2000. It is now too late for anyone who wishes to be an elector of the Chief Executive next year to seek election to the Election Committee.

So far, the only plausible explanation has come from Lau Siu-kai, the chairman of the University of Hong Kong's Sociology Department. He said Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa must have realized in July that his popularity rating was extremely low and so wanted to avoid having the Election Committee election turn into a nasty fight between the pro-Tung and anti-Tung candidates.

I suppose he feared that quite a few of the anti-Tung candidates would win, making it more difficult for him to secure a second term of office.

If what Professor Lau said was true, that would mean that the bill was tailor-made for Mr. Tung, at least in some important respects. How else can one explain why the Chief Executive must not be a member of any political party?

Mr. Suen devoted a large part of his Legco speech to explaining why this provision was necessary at this stage of Hong Kong's political development. It was truly a masterpiece of gibberish. He said that this provision would "ensure that the Chief Executive, when discharging his duties, will take into account the overall interests of the Hong Kong SAR, instead of the interests of the political party to which he belongs".

Of course Mr. Suen - or is it Mr. Tung? - is entitled to be cynical about political parties. But do Mr. Tung and Mr. Suen realise almost every elected leader in the world belongs to a political party? Do they suggest that only after an elected leader has resigned from his party can he truly rule in the overall interests of his country, as opposed to the selfish interests of his party?

If so, then United States President George W. Bush should resign from the Republican Party, British Prime Minister Tony Blair from the Labour Party, and Chinese President Mr. Jiang Zemin from the Chinese Communist Party.

Surely, having a political leader belong to a political party and being subject to party discipline is a good thing - not a bad thing, as suggested by Mr. Suen.

A political party that allows its president or prime minister to do something unjust or contrary to the well being of the community does so at its peril and runs the risk of losing the next election.

Indeed, if Mr. Tung had belonged to a political party and was subject to its discipline, he would not have been allowed to grant favours to his friends, such as selling the prime residential site at Pokfulam to Pacific Century Group for Cyberport without going through a public auction or open tender.

The problem is, of course, that no matter what we think about these provisions the bill, and the logic and reasoning behind them, there can be little doubt Mr. Tung likes them and approves of what Mr. Suen said in support of them. The bill suits Mr. Tung so well that we might as well entitle it "The Tung Chee-hwa Election Bill".

In presenting the bill to the public, the flaws of Hong Kong's currently undemocratic system - whereby the most senior civil servants are answerable only to Mr. Tung, and Mr. Tung is unaccountable to anyone except Beijing - have to be dressed up as virtues.

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