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Politics of Hong Kong

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Background On July 1, 1997, the People's Republic of China was handed sovereignty over Hong Kong, ending more than 150 years of British colonial control. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China with a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs. According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration (1984) and the Hong Kong Basic Law--Hong Kong's mini-constitution--for 50 years after reversion Hong Kong will retain its political, economic, and judicial systems and unique way of life and continue to participate in international agreements and organizations under the name, "Hong Kong, China".

According to the Basic Law, the Legislative Council consists of directly elected members and indirectly elected members before 2007. Directly elected members are elected by general publics, and indirectly elected members are elected by functional (occupational) constituencies and an Election Committee. Those who are eligible to vote for the indirectly elected can also vote for the directly elected, therefore critics regard it as unfair and not democratic enough.

Under an initial agreement, the last Legislative Council of Hong Kong under British rule was elected according to the Basic Law and it would become the first Legislative Council of SAR. Chris Patten, by extending the definition of functional constituencies, allowed virtually everybody to vote for the indirect elected. The PRC government strongly opposed his measure and instead they appointed a temporary Legislative Council to take over Hong Kong government on July 1, 1997. The first Legislative Council of HKSAR was elected in 1998.

Current Situation The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is headed by Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa. Mr. Tung assumed office on July 1, 1997, following his selection by a 400-member committee appointed by Beijing in a four way race. He was reelected unopposed in 2001. The method of choosing the Chief Executive after 2007 remains as yet undetermined.

Legislative Council elections were held in May 1998 and again in September 2000. According to The Basic Law, Hong Kong's "Mini-constitution," the Legislative Council currently has 24 directly elected members and 36 indirectly elected members--30 members elected by functional (occupational) constituencies and 6 elected by an Election Committee. The next elections in 2004 will increase the number of elected seats to 30 and the number of functional seats to 30. The method of selecting legislative council seats after 2007 has yet to be determined.

The 1998 and 2000 elections were praised by pro-Beijing as free, open, and widely contested, but were criticized by pro-democracy politicians as unfair (See the previous section). In both elections, pro-Beijing wins the majority of indirectly elected positions while pro-democracy and the independents occupy most directly elected seats.

According to the Basic Law, a draft could become a law only if it receives the support of more than 12 directly elected members and more than 18 indirectly elected members. The drafts by pro-democracy are almost impossible to pass and the drafts by the government, if supported by the few independents, are certainly past. As a result, the Legislative Council is seen by some as a failure in overseeing the government.

Tung has dramatically changed the structure of the government. Overall the Civil Service maintains its quality and neutrality, operating without discernible direction from Beijing, but the upper officials are forced to take the job of bargaining with Legislative Council members.

Right of Abode According to the Basic Law, all Hongkongers' children are also Hongkongers and are eligible to live in Hong Kong. This seemingly reasonable statement caused the first crisis for the continued independence of the judiciary of Hong Kong.

At first, the highest court in Hong Kong ruled that anybody whose father or mother is a Hongkonger is a Hongkonger. Therefore, a person with an ancester living in Hong Kong may be qualified as a Hongkonger! Based on that conclusion and some questionable data, Hong Kong government calculated that there might be millions of "Hongkongers" now reside in mainland China! If those "Hongkongers" come, it would be a disaster for Hong Kong.

Most legal expertises believed the best way is to ask the National People's Congress to rewrite part of the Basic Law in order to clarify the definition of "Hongkonger". But before the Basic Law is rewritten, those "Hongkongers" are real Hongkongers and the government cannot expel them.

Instead, the Hong Kong Government sought interpretation, not rewritten, of the Basic Law from the National People's Congress. It was a quick solution, but it threatened the independent of judiciary of Hong Kong by asking a law-making body to overturn the decision of the highest court. Worst still, it was the law-making body of mainland China and so the critics argue that the government destroyed the One Country, Two System.

Althrough in general, Hong Kong's courts remain independent and the rule of law is respected, but the seed of disbelief is already planted.

Basic Law Article 23 In 2003, Tung's government wants to introduce the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 into the legal code in HKSAR. However, the unlimited power of the government and introduction of the mainland China's concept of forbidden organisations deeply troubled many Hongkongers. Fear the loss of both freedom of speech and the independence of judiciary leads to a mass protest of 500,000 people on July 1.

After the giant march, some pro-Beijing politicans switch side, most notably the Liberal Party (Hong Kong). On July 6, Tung Chee Hwa announced that the second reading of the Law was to be postponed after James Tien[?] of the Liberal Party announced that he was resigning from the Executive Council and would have his party members vote for a postponement. As a result, the government would have insufficient votes to pass the law on July 9 as first scheduled.

Country name:
conventional long form: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
conventional short form: Hong Kong
local long form: Xianggang Tebie Xingzhengqu
local short form: Xianggang
abbreviation: HK

Data code: HK

Dependency status: Special administrative region of China

Government type: NA

Administrative divisions: none (special administrative region of China)

Independence: none (special administrative region of China)

National holiday: National Day, 1-2 October; note - 1 July 1997 is celebrated as Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day

Constitution: Basic Law approved in March 1990 by China's National People's Congress is Hong Kong's "mini-constitution"

Legal system: based on English common law

Suffrage: direct election 18 years of age; universal for permanent residents living in the territory of Hong Kong for the past seven years; indirect election limited to about 100,000 members of functional constituencies and an 800-member election committee drawn from broad regional groupings, municipal organizations, and central government bodies.

Executive branch:
chief of state: President of the People's Republic of China Hu Jintao (since March 2003)
head of government: Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (since 1 July 1997)
cabinet: Executive Council consists of three ex-officio members and 10 appointed members; ex-officio members are: Chief Secretary Donald TSANG Yam-kuen (since 1 May 2001), Financial Secretary Antony LEUNG (since 1 May 2001), and Secretary of Justice Elsie LEUNG (since 1 July 1997) elections: NA
elections: NA

Legislative branch: Unicameral Legislative Council or LEGCO (60 seats; 30 indirectly elected by functional constituencies, 20 elected by popular vote, and 10 elected by an 800-member election committee; members serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 25 May 1998 (early elections scheduled to be held in September 2000)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - Democratic Party 13, Liberal Party 9, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong 9, Hong Kong Progressive Alliance 5, Frontier Party 3, Citizens Party 1, independents 20

Judicial branch: The Court of Final Appeal in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

Political parties and leaders:

note: Political blocs include:

  • pro-democracy - Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, Citizens Party, Democratic Party, Frontier Party
  • pro-Beijing - Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, Liberal Party

Political pressure groups and leaders:

International organization participation: APEC, AsDB, BIS, CCC, ESCAP (associate), ICFTU, International Maritime Organization (associate), Interpol (subbureau), IOC, ISO (correspondent), WCL, WMO, WTrO

Diplomatic representation in the US: none (special administrative region of the PRC)

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Consul General Richard A. Boucher
consulate(s) general: 26 Garden Road, Hong Kong
mailing address: PSC 464, Box 30, FPO AP 96522-0002
telephone: [852] 2523-9011
FAX: [852] 2845-1598

Flag description: red with a stylized, white, five-petal bauhinia[?] flower in the center

See also : Hong Kong - Politics of China



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