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Fate of disqualified lawmakers to be decided by HK govt as NPC extends LegCo for 1 year

(Global Times)    15:11, August 12, 2020

Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, president of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, meets media on Tuesday after China's top legislature decided to extend LegCo for one year. Photo: cnsphoto

The National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend the sixth Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) lawmakers' terms of office by at least one year until the new LegCo begins, in case the coronavirus outbreak remains uncontained within one year.

The decision didn't clarify whether the opposition lawmakers, who are disqualified from election for next term, could remain in the LegCo in the extended term. It is a matter that the HKSAR government has to decide, with experts saying this could avoid unnecessary political struggles, and showed great trust that the national legislature has on the HKSAR government. All attendees of the meeting consider that, as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and the Executive Council of the city have already decided to postpone the seventh LegCo election by one year, to ensure the normal operations of the HKSAR government and society, the decision made by the NPC standing committee conforms to the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and is necessary and appropriate, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Whether the Hong Kong lawmaker candidates disqualified from running in the next LegCo election could stay in the legislature during the extended term is up to the HKSAR government's decision, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress told the Global Times on Tuesday after the vote. "Other questions were left for the HKSAR government to handle in accordance with the law," he said.

Handling the vacuum period in LegCo following the postponed election amid the resurgence of the COVID-19 has attracted public attention, which took center-stage at the four-day meeting of the NPC Standing Committee, which ended on Tuesday.

Li Xiaobing, a Hong Kong affairs legal expert at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the decision is appropriate because political issues like disqualifying opposition camp lawmakers are not the reason why the NPC Standing Committee made this decision.

"The decision is based on a public health crisis. The political problem of opposition politicians is a very detailed issue, so it should be handled by the HKSAR government," Li noted.

Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the decision is the most convenient and simplest way to keep current LegCo operating amid the ongoing epidemic situation as well as to avoid political struggles so that the HKSAR government can focus on fighting the virus and handle the economic recovery.

Online debates focused on whether the extended terms of office would violate the Basic Law, as it states that each lawmaker should serve four years. Tam noted that the NPC Standing Committee has the right to supplement the law in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and to deal with problems arising from abnormal circumstances, which won't violate the Basic Law.

It also states that the term of the seventh LegCo is four years, which won't change the relevant regulations of the Basic Law.

'Behave yourself'

Former HKSAR chief executive Leung Chun-ying said in an interview with Hong Kong media on Friday that lawmakers who were disqualified from running in the next LegCo election should not be allowed to stay in the current LegCo in the extended term, because they are not even qualified to be a candidate. So no matter what will happen to the LegCo, these people should not stay in the city's legislature.

Tian Feilong, a legal expert on Hong Kong affairs at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the HKSAR government will likely allow disqualified lawmakers to continue their service in the extended term. But these lawmakers "should behave themselves" because with the enactment of the national security law for Hong Kong, these lawmakers will violate the law if they continue their separatist stance and extreme activities, such as storming and paralyzing the LegCo, to challenge national security.

The NPC meeting decided that the term of the current LegCo should be extended by at least one year, because of concerns that there might be another outbreak, which would impede the voting process, Tam said. "At that time, there won't be any need to go through the NPC procedure, as the current LegCo will continue to perform its duties until the beginning of the seventh term of the LegCo," he noted.

"Opposition camp lawmakers should cooperate with the decision. The coming year would be extremely important to them. They need to decide whether to change their political stance and approach to achieve their political demands. If they can't, their careers in the Hong Kong political system could end anytime," Lau said.

Politicians from the opposition camp need to learn that after the enactment of the national security law for Hong Kong, they can only be "the opposition parties with loyalty," who are loyal to the "one country, two systems" principle and the HKSAR government, Lau stressed.

If they can't correct their extreme, radical and even separatist political stance, they would be replaced by "loyal opposition politicians" with a constructive stance, Lau noted.

Important term

In the extended term, which is an unusual period, the LegCo should explore how to operate under such a special situation, analysts said.

Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a current LegCo lawmaker, told the Global Times that in the coming year, the pro-establishment camp should make full use of the time to try its best to win public support by making concrete contributions to fighting the epidemic situation, and to facilitating economic recovery.

Ho said, "More importantly, the HKSAR government and the LegCo should use the time to push the national security legislation under the Basic Law and to pass Article 23, because the national security law for Hong Kong has made it clear that this is a constitutional obligation of the HKSAR."

The national security law for Hong Kong states that the HKSAR shall complete, as early as possible, legislation for safeguarding national security as stipulated in the Basic Law of the HKSAR, and shall refine relevant laws. 

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(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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