Elsie Leung Oi-sie, the deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong Basic Law Committee, has said that Beijing’s official organ is allowed to persuade chief executive electors to support contenders.

Some electors from the pro-Beijing camp and the pro-democracy camp said they received calls from the China Liaison Office or political heavyweights asking them to nominate a certain contender – reportedly Carrie Lam.

The claims raised concerns over China’s intervention in the local election. Leung, also the former justice secretary, said that persuasion and intervention were different.

Elsie Leung. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Anyone can persuade electors in a democratic election, in accordance with the law,” she said on Monday after an online programme. “As long as you do not employ coercion or bribery, this is completely acceptable.”

Contender Woo Kwok-hing said there was “nothing wrong” with Leung’s interpretation. He did not agree that phone calls would put pressure on electors.

“Calling people is not intervention. But if you use illegal methods such as telling lies or intimidation, that’s not okay,” he said. “When you call me, I can choose not to answer; I can say yes [to demands] and then not do anything.”

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan questioned Leung’s claim.

“Are you kidding me? Everybody knows persuasion is different from intervention. But a state agency calling you… that’s not simply persuasion – how many pro-Beijing camp electors can openly oppose and not follow the orders? Like Michael Tien said – the Liaison Office called to campaign for Carrie Lam, can he not answer the call?” she said.

Woo Kwok-hing. File Photo: Woo Kwok-hing, via Facebook.

Preventing intervention

Leung also said Woo’s proposal to legislate Article 22 of the Basic Law – to prevent China from interfering in Hong Kong affairs – was not possible.

She said the local government cannot set up a law to limit the central government, and it can only be the case that the central government exercises self-restraint in accordance with the Article.

Woo said setting up the law would not be intervening with the central government.

“It is in the Basic Law, the constitution of Hong Kong… it says clearly that no department of the central government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the central government may interfere in Hong Kong affairs,” he said. “I don’t understand why it cannot be done.”

On political reform, Leung said she would not expect Beijing to change its decision on the vetting of chief executive candidates by a nomination committee in future reforms unless there was a major change in society, since the decision was only made about two years ago.

Asked what would happen if the Legislative Council passes a reform proposal that does not follow the Beijing framework by a two-thirds majority – the legal requirement – Leung said: “If there is a proposal that most of them can accept, I believe the central government is willing to consider it. It depends on the form of the proposal. In fact the proposal that they agree on may be in accordance with the August 31 [2014 framework].”

LegCo president Andrew Leung. File Photo: HKFP.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Council Commission has decided to ban all activities related to the chief executive election in the building. The ban came after complaints over lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung announcing matters related to his chief executive run at the Council.

The ban will start from Tuesday, when the nomination period starts, until March 26 when the election is concluded. The ban includes activities such as meeting with candidates or promoting them.

“The Commission will send guidelines to lawmakers – we hope lawmakers will exercise restraint,” said LegCo president Andrew Leung. “If there is a violation, the LegCo secretariat will give a warning, and a copy will be send to the Electoral Affairs Commission and the Independent Commission Against Corruption.”

Leung said candidates need to be cautious about using public resources in campaigning, adding that it may violate election laws.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.