Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended her latest policy address amid criticism over its failure to concede to the demands of pro-democracy protesters.
Lam’s third policy address – delivered in the middle of her five-year term – focused on housing, land supply, economic development and livelihood issues. Her speech at the Legislative Council was twice interrupted by pan-democrats chanting slogans, resulting in it being televised instead.
Hong Kong has entered its 19th week of unrest sparked by an ill-fated extradition proposal with China. Though the bill is to be axed, demonstrators are demanding a fully independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
Lam said it would be constitutionally inappropriate to try and tackle the current political deadline in her policy address, which was intended to lay out prospective government initiatives and targets: “We have to fulfil the constitutional requirements,” Lam said. “For our policy address to totally ignore those constitutional requirements and… provide certain forms of universal suffrage for the people of Hong Kong is not a responsible act.”
When pressed on whether the government would consider yielding to calls for democracy, Lam gave a muted response, saying: “This is governed by constitutional principles that [are] under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and provisions in the Basic Law. Again, we could not deviate or breach this important constitutional principle by accepting this particular demand.”
In response to demands to grant amnesty to those arrested since the start of the protest movement, Lam refused, saying that it would be illegal; “The demand for amnesty is totally against the rule of law in Hong Kong and is actually illegal as far as the Chief Executive is concerned because I have no power to interfere with the prosecution as well as the judicial proceedings in the courts,” she said.
“To demand the Chief Executive to do something that is illegal, unlawful and deviates from the important principle of the rule of law is something I’m afraid I can’t concede to.”
“I have to say that actually many people would not condone the granting of amnesty by the Hong Kong SAR Government, whether it is by the Department of Justice or another authority,” Lam added. “Under the Basic Law, the only authority rests with the Department of Justice.”
Over 2,200 people have been arrested since the start of the protest movement in June.
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