CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hong Kong becoming semi-authoritarian says symposium

HONG KONG (UCAN): Only two days prior to the Justice and Peace Commission’s 40th Anniversary Symposium on the topic of Hong Kong’s Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law under Authoritarian Governance, the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) passed controversial amendments to the rules of procedure to allow the quorum required for scrutinising bills to be reduced from 35 to 20.
Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, a former lawmaker for the pro-democracy Civic Party, told the symposium that the reduction would be unconstitutional and have a bad impact on the effectiveness of legislation. 
She expressed disappointment that the neither the LegCo president, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, nor pan-democrat or pro-establishment lawmakers seemed concerned over the compromising of the constitutionality of the quorum.
According to Article 75 of the Basic Law, the quorum for a meeting of the LegCo should be not less than one half of all its members—there are 70 seats in the legislature.
She urged the democrats to call for a judicial review, but warned that it may result in a lot of litigation and “lead to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) interpreting the law.”
“In the past, the Basic Law was considered to be a written constitution, and though the NPCSC has the power to interpret, we felt that they would not make it go too far. But now they are increasingly ferocious, even ignoring principles of law and fair procedure, to do what they want to,” Ng said.
She expressed worries about how Hong Kong people could protect their properties, rights and freedoms in the future.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, also said that Hong Kong was moving towards a semi-authoritarian era.
“Before the 831 framework, we still had the chance to move towards democracy, but now Hong Kong has not been democratic but semi-authoritarian,” he said.
The NPCSC’s 831 framework for elections triggered the Occupy Central Campaign. 
The term 831 refers to 31 August 2014, when the NPCSC decided that that a 1,200-member election committee would continue to elect the city’s chief executive and that only two to three candidates would be able to run. 
This triggered the Umbrella Movement protest which lasted 79 days, from 8 September to 15 December 2014.
The decision was criticised by pan-democrats as not reflecting real universal suffrage because majority of citizens were deprived of the right to nominate people to the election committee.
Tai went on the observe that there have been a lot of changes in Hong Kong over the past six months and that the situation seems to be gradually moving towards authoritarianism.
He said Hong Kong might not be able to reverse conditions in the short term “because China’s internal development also affects Hong Kong’s democratisation and it now appears that China’s president, Xi Jinping, is moving from a semi-authoritarian era to an authoritarian one.”
But Tai remains optimistic about China and Hong Kong’s democratic development. He suggested that protesters work more to put democratic ideals into practice in districts and involve more people.
He said democrats might have different stances but should be united. “Unity is very important in the face of authoritarian rule since it is the best way break through constraints,” he said.
He noted that the failure of the Article 23 legislation in 2003 was due to public strength, which saw 500,000 people take to the streets in protest.  
Hui Po-keung, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, said the public should be made to understand that democracy was the way to protect the “right to nonconformity.”
He explained, “That is the rights of minorities with the consent of the majority.” 
Hui cited a recent incident where students did not stand for the national anthem. Under the protection of the right to nonconformity, their human rights and freedom are ensured.
“The present political environment is weakening the voice of the minority,” he said.
Tai still believes that “although there is a dark winter, God still creates daylight. The road to democracy in Hong Kong is long and we may not see any hopes, but we still insist.”

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