At an official event in Beijing recently to mark 20 years of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), said the central government’s power over the SAR should be more systemized and micro.
Meanwhile, Feng Wei, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, remarked that Beijing has been studying ways to perfect the system whereby the NPCSC can exercise its constitutional power of interpreting the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
According to government sources, the reason why Beijing is trying to further rationalize and enhance its micromanagement of Hong Kong is because it has become increasingly dismayed at and impatient with the filibusters mounted by the pan-democrats in Legco in recent years.
As such, Beijing is contemplating rooting out filibusters once and for all through interpretation of the Basic Law when the time is ripe.
In fact since the handover, Beijing’s power over Hong Kong as laid down in the Basic Law has never been systemized. For example, there hasn’t been any consistent, unified and clear mechanism in place yet when it comes to the interpretation of the Basic Law.
As a result, among the five cases of interpretation of the Basic Law since 1997, some of them were initiated by the SAR government, some were proposed by the Court of Final Appeal, while some were carried out by the NPCSC unilaterally.
What Beijing wants to do is to establish a standard, regular and consistent procedure for Basic Law interpretation.
As regards to the potential article in the Basic Law that Beijing may use to ban filibusters in Legco, some in the local legal sector said they feel authorities may invoke Article 74 to outlaw the activities.
Article 74 of the Basic Law stipulates that Legco members can only introduce a private member’s bill as long as it doesn’t concern public expenditure, political structure or the operation of the government. If the bill deals with government policies, a written consent from the Chief Executive is required before its introduction.
Drafted back in the mid-80s, the article was originally intended to prevent pro-democracy lawmakers from pushing for their own legislative initiatives and undermining the executive-led form of government after 1997.
However, some observers pointed out that Beijing may interpret Article 74 to make it apply to amendments proposed by Legco members as well, thereby preventing the opposition from proposing hundreds of thousands of amendments to government bills in order to stall them.
Yet sources also said invoking Article 74 is only one among the various options on the table right now, and Beijing hasn’t made its final decision yet.
Nor would Beijing take sweeping action in the short run against filibusters unless they are spinning out of control so much so the SAR government is paralyzed, as for example, under circumstances when the annual budget is blocked in Legco.
At this stage, however, Beijing is building hype around this idea in the academic sector in order to test the water.
For instance, Professor Rao Geping and Lau Siu-kai, both of who are vice presidents of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, commented on the issue recently in an apparent effort to draw media attention in Hong Kong.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 7
Translation by Alan Lee
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