Why the rule of law must never be compromised

Updated: 2014-10-29 07:09

By Zhou Bajun(HK Edition)

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Why the rule of law must never be compromised

The Communist Party of China (CPC) issued a communique on "comprehensively advancing ruling the country according to the law" at its Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress. This blueprint for reforming China's legal system was roundly criticized by Western media outlets. But to some extent they also acknowledged that China would streamline its legal system, while emphasizing the importance of its Constitution.

But, here in Hong Kong, having implemented Western-style rule of law for more than a century, the opposition camp is now jeopardizing the cornerstone of the legal system by demanding so-called genuine democracy. The behavior of the opposition camp is also widely applauded by the Western media.

The first and most important cornerstone of the Hong Kong SAR is the national Constitution and the Basic Law. When the opposition camp proposed public nomination for Chief Executive (CE) candidates, before the National People's Congress Standing Committee's (NPCSC) Aug 31 announcement of its landmark decision on political reform, it was defying the Basic Law. Following the announcement of the NPCSC's decision, this defiant attitude worsened. Some "Occupy Central" supporters could be heard exclaiming: "The NPCSC should withdraw its Aug 31 decision."

The second, but no less important cornerstone of the HKSAR, is public order. Since "Occupy" was officially launched on Sept 28, protesters have exceeded the acceptable boundaries for expressing "freedom of speech" in Hong Kong by disrupting public order.

The police have suffered some serious attacks over the past month. Thousands of police officers on the front line have endured verbal and physical assaults. They have done this while working up to 20 hours a day coping with the "Occupy" protests. Only a few police officers have behaved inappropriately. They did this in the face of unprecedented pressure - yet the opposition camp has frequently criticized the police.

More seriously, not only the police, but also the courts have been treated with contempt. On Oct 20, the High Court granted three groups - a taxi drivers' group, a minibus operators' group and Goldon Investment - injunctions against barricades set up by protesters in Mong Kok and Admiralty. Nevertheless, the protesters, in defiance of the court, refused to move. The incident marks an appalling precedent in the history of the rule of law in Hong Kong.

Although "Occupy" campaigners are contemptuously breaking the law, the government has patiently negotiated with them to persuade the occupiers to withdraw. In her dialogue with representatives of the student protesters on Oct 21, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would submit a report to Beijing relaying the protesters' concerns. It would also consider setting up a platform for dialogue on constitutional development, she said. But only a few hours after the talks, these suggestions were rejected. The opposition camp also advocates the introduction of public nomination as the method for selecting candidates for CE election by universal suffrage in 2017 and the end of functional constituencies from the 2016 Legislative Council election onwards.

Essentially, the opposition camp is fighting for so-called genuine democracy at the expense of the rule of law. Don't the "Occupy" protesters understand that in the West the rule of law is the cornerstone of democracy? Yes. They believe in Western democracy and they are not stupid. Many protesters involved in "Occupy" understand that protesters in the United States or Europe have been treated far more harshly by police in those countries.

Examples of such treatment are many - from the recent presence of heavily armed police on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of African American teenager Michael Brown, to the death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor struck and killed by a police officer in London while walking home during the 2009 G20 protests.

With "Occupy" spinning out of control, Tung Chee-hwa, the first CE made a statement on Oct 24. He advised the students protesting on the streets to return home. Tung told the occupiers, "The rule of law is the cornerstone of Hong Kong's success. We can't violate the rule of law while pursuing democracy."

When the rule of law is being exchanged for so-called genuine democracy, then not only universal suffrage in 2017 but the economy itself will be jeopardized. Hotel bookings and credit-card spending in Hong Kong have dropped 20 to 30 percent since "Occupy" started. As long as this continues, investment in Hong Kong will be greatly diminished.

Democracy benefits all citizens. However, Hong Kong people are bearing the economic consequences of "Occupy". It's time they, and the government, decided to end "Occupy".

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 10/29/2014 page10)