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劉廼強 | 22nd Jan 2010 | SCMP | (56 Reads)

It looks like a referendum, smells like a referendum and the organising parties, the League of Social Democrats and Civic Party, have declared it to be a referendum.

However, the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment political parties still pretend that it's not a referendum.

The government said it has a constitutional duty to arrange a by-election, and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions have indicated that they will field candidates.

Facing a direct challenge to its authority, the central government last Friday issued a statement of condemnation and concern through the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and its liaison office in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - who was more than likely notified beforehand of the statement - had said the day before, and for the first time, that the government would not accept the referendum.

Two days later, commenting on the central government's statements, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung also took up the new, harder line.

This new official line is, however, ambivalent.

As Civic Party leader and lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee observed, if the Hong Kong government says it's not a referendum, and will not accept the results, then why make a big fuss about it?

Does the government have enough guts to lay out its position clearly, or does it want to be everything to everybody, but end up pleasing nobody?

If the administration does not accept that it is a referendum, yet still prepares for the by-elections, the statements from Tsang and Lam will be meaningless.

If the government is indeed serious about this referendum claim, it has to condemn it, pointing out that because Hong Kong is a special administrative region in a unitary state, it has no legal position to decide its constitutional development. That is why a referendum is unacceptable.

Logically, the SAR government should refuse to accept the lawmakers' resignations and refuse to organise a by-election, as local legislation can never override national laws.

Similarly, Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing will have to take a stand too because he will be the first to deal with the dissident lawmakers' mass resignations.

Judging from his recent behaviour, especially his handling of the dispute between league legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip and pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, he appears to be trying hard to please the dissidents.

As a result, he will more likely than not try to avoid having to decide whether a political resignation leading to a referendum is legal and acceptable.

As things go in Hong Kong, at a certain point there will be a judicial review which will allow the courts to take up the unpleasant job of deciding whether the resignations violate the Basic Law.

On the other hand, some angry young league supporters will organise a few rowdy protests to express their views.

The filibustering tactics and series of violent protests employed by the league and the Civic Party against the express rail-link funding have greatly annoyed much of the previously silent majority.

The people are now ready to launch some countermeasures. The situation is liable to be explosive.

The official statements from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the liaison office were only the first warnings from Beijing.

Whether we like it or not, if we in Hong Kong do not quickly get our act together, the powerful National People's Congress will soon be forced to act to clear up the matter and stabilise the situation.