In a recent radio interview, Ronny Tong Ka-wah told the interviewer that Paul Harris responded indifferently to his request to be nominated by the Hong Kong Bar Association to compete in the Election Committee’s legal subsector poll on Sept 19. Harris said it was not worth participating in the legal subsector poll, a remark definitely not a responsible answer as the chairman of the bar. Nor was it a Solomonic decision. There is no doubt that a reasonable person in the shoes of the chairman of the bar would have attached great importance to the legal subsector poll for public interests and for the well-being of its members. Regrettably but unsurprisingly, Harris has failed to meet these expectations.
Obviously, Harris’ irresponsible remarks have further undermined the public perception that he is a competent chairman to lead the bar. Harris cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the Election Committee, which has the power to nominate the next chief executive, has also been tasked with nominating every candidate for the Legislative Council elections. The legislature has been given 20 more seats, taking the total to 90, with the Election Committee also able to field its own representatives among the 40 candidates it will choose.
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Establishing a strong foothold in the Election Committee will help repair the bar’s strained relations with the central government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. Good relationships between the bar and the HKSAR government could help the bar maintain the independence of the bar, defend the bar in its relations with the Judiciary and the executive wing of the government, and improve the administration of the justice system in Hong Kong. The above objectives, which are laid down in the constitution of the bar, are much too serious matters to be entrusted to Harris.
At a glance, the subsector polls are far from competitive. In this election, only 15 seats in the legal profession (out of a total of 30 seats) must be selected by voting. Judging from the final voting results of the Election Committee’s subsector poll, the voting rate of the legal profession reached 100 percent, and the bar ultimately participated in the election. We hope competition for seats on the Election Committee will increase once those who aspire to administer Hong Kong will become more familiar with the new rules. The realism of controlled competition in the Election Committee’s poll should be balanced against the standard expectations of the central government to foster political pluralism in the composition of the subsequent Election Committee.
As stated in our previous commentary, the Western obsession with competitive elections and their alleged indispensability has been thrown into serious doubt because of the unsuccessful experiences in some developed countries and tragic experiments in some developing countries. Advocates of good governance should, under special security circumstances, look beyond the fiercely advertised campaigns just for sure and focus on the introduction of effective measures to ensure that the reconstituted Election Committee will meet the demands of the people. Unfortunately for the bar, Harris may not agree with us. He tends to view the subsector poll through a dogmatic Western prism.
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After becoming the chairman of the bar, Harris accepted a media interview and proposed amending the National Security Law for Hong Kong because of its alleged incompatibility with some provisions of the Basic Law. His remarks attracted fierce criticism from the pro-establishment press. Later, Harris conceded and stated that his remarks were just his personal opinions. We have, on several occasions, urged him to refrain from turning the bar into an anti-government political organization. But his remarks on the Election Committee’s subsector poll indicate that he is still hostile toward the HKSAR government.
As a member of the Liberal Democrats of the UK, Harris gives us the impression that he is wearing two hats of loyalty. He has failed to convince us that he is loyal to Hong Kong.
Recently, Bar Council member Robin D’Souza resigned, as the bar has faced increasing scrutiny from the central government. He was the second council member to resign after Harris had become the chairman of the bar. To maintain internal unity, the bar should give more weight to the views of those members who are not satisfied with the performance of Harris. Above all, the central government’s views should be highly respected. Harris’ inappropriate remarks and his political background in the UK have strengthened the contention that he should resign immediately.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and a co-founder of the Hong Kong Coalition.