Saturday, 12 September 2015

Attempting to Change the Goalposts

Leung Chun-ying and Zhang Xiaoming at today's Basic Law symposium
If Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying needed a morale booster, he got a big one today.

Central People's Government liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming said that the chief executive is above the executive, legislature and judiciary.

He made the remarks during a Basic Law symposium on Saturday, thus effectively ending any notion that the separation of powers concept was applicable to Hong Kong.

This naturally sparked fears over whether Beijing is redefining the function and status of the chief executive of Hong Kong, who is already selected by a 1,200-pro-Beijing committee.

Leong asks if Leung should be treated "like an emperor"
"The chief executive's dual responsibility [to both Hong Kong and Beijing] means he has a special legal position which is above the executive, legislative and judicial institutions," Zhang said during a 26-minute speech.

He also said Hong Kong is directly under the jurisdiction of the central government, and that the CE is not only head of the Hong Kong government but also the Hong Kong special administrative region. "He has responsibility towards both the Central People's Government and to Hong Kong," Zhang said.

He added: "Hong Kong is not a political system that exercises the separation of powers; not before the handover, not after the handover." Zhang said separation of powers "is usually established in sovereign states" and so it is "at best" only a reference for Hong Kong.

Basically Zhang is saying is that Leung and successive chief executives of Hong Kong are above the law. By the way how can he say there was no separation of powers before then handover when China did not have jurisdiction over Hong Kong?

Lee asks why interpretation of the Basic Law "keeps changing"
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Ka-kit interpreted these comments as Beijing sending a message that Leung should be put on a pedestal "like an emperor", and that legislative and judiciary systems cannot keep his power in check or keep him accountable.

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Labour Party said, "In the long run, how would Hong Kong people have faith in the Basic Law, whose meaning keeps changing?"

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a top pro-Beijing think tank, sought to play down Zhang's comments. "From the mainland's perspective, it is a separation of powers under the leadership of the executive. The three powers are not equally important and do not share the same status," he said.

"Under the Basic Law, the executive, legislature and judiciary have their own powers and duties. But the chief executive's position is supreme," Lau said.

Lau plays down what Zhang said... then what does he mean?
When one reads the Basic Law, the chief executive is "accountable to the Central People's Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law".

Article 64 states the executive branch "must abide by the law and be accountable to the Legislative Council of the region", while Article 85 says Hong Kong courts "shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference. Members of the judiciary shall be immune from legal action in the performance of their judicial functions".

And finally with regards to the Legislative Council, it has the power to file a motion charging the chief executive with serious breach of law or dereliction of duty in a process that can lead to impeachment after an investigation by the judiciary.

So what is Zhang talking about then?

How can he re-interpret the Basic Law when the three institutions' functions are pretty clearly spelled out?

Is this Zhang's way of giving Leung a major ego boost, or tipping his hand for 2017? Or is he making these incorrect statements to rile up the pro-democracy camp to prove who's got the upper hand?

He should really check his facts before making such potentially explosive statements...

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