HKJA: Depriving Right to Vote Undermines Freedom of Expression

HKJA: Depriving Right to Vote Undermines Freedom of Expression

    Jun 28 2011

  1. The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemns the government’s lack of public consultation regarding its proposals for filling vacancies in the Legislative Council. The government has chosen to take a legislative course reminiscent of the Article 23 saga thereby preventing journalists and other civic groups from conducting sufficient scrutiny of a bill which could potentially have grave consequences upon the constitutional rights of Hong Kong residents.

  1. A government which respects the freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law facilitates consultation and scrutiny over its policies and new laws.  A government which ignores the need for consultation and scrutiny does so because it desires unchecked power.  Where those policies and new laws affect peoples’ rights and liberties, the onus on consultation and scrutiny should be even greater. Regrettably, the HKSAR government has not only dispensed with a public consultation process, but further undermined the public’s right to know by merely conducting a “stand-up” to answer brief questions, followed up by a background briefing instead of a proper press conference. It is unacceptable for government officials to hide behind the protective veil of “anonymous sources” when explaining such an important constitutional change.

  1. Freedom of expression, in its wider ambit, embraces the right to vote which guarantees the people’s full expression in approving or disapproving certain candidates as their representatives.  The deprivation of the right to vote in by-elections by the government’s proposals on the arrangements for filing vacancies in the Legislative Council thus undermine people’s freedom of expression. The HKJA opposes the government’s current proposal as effectively robbing the right to a free expression of the will of electors, as enshrined by Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is entrenched into the Basic Law by virtue of Article 39 of the BL.

  1.  The HKJA is not convinced by the government’s bare assertions on the desirability of the proposed alternative mechanism. The government has cited the electoral systems of certain countries as examples to demonstrate the constitutionality of its proposal, but the lack of information as to those respective countries’ constitutional arrangements renders such examples meaningless.  In particular, the HKJA has observed that the German system the HKSAR government has cited as an example is in fact in a constitutional crisis of its own, with the Federal Constitutional Court having ruled the election system unconstitutional due to effect of “negative voting weight”. Under these circumstances, the HKSAR government’s bare assertions regarding the constitutionality of their proposals must be subject to greater public scrutiny and further debate.  Hasty legislation before the general public and the media have had the fullest opportunity to perform their roles as the check and balance to government assertions must be opposed.

  1. Although the government may put forward changes to the original proposal, the effect of announcing amended proposal without putting back the date for legislation would be to cut short the time the public has to scrutinize the proposals.  Time is getting shorter each day, but the list of concerns and questions grows longer. HKJA strongly demand a proper and comprehensive public consultation on any change to the by-election arrangement so as to keep this vital constitutional right intact.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

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