HONG KONG • Hong Kong's leader enjoys a special legal position that puts him above the legislature and judiciary, China's top official in the city said, raising some politicians' concerns about Beijing's expanding influence in the city.
Hong Kong's leader, the chief executive, reports to the central Chinese government. Thousands of the city's residents have held protests demanding full democracy, putting pressure on current leader Leung Chun Ying.
Speaking last Saturday at a function to mark the 25th anniversary of the Basic Law, Beijing's chief liaison officer Zhang Xiaoming said political systems where branches of government can check the powers of others "are usually established in sovereign states" and thus, are "at best" only a reference for Hong Kong.
The Basic Law is the Constitution under which China governs the former British colony as a special administrative region.
Mr Zhang further asserted that the chief executive's authority was above all.
"The dual responsibility of the chief executive to the central government and Hong Kong has given him a special legal position which is above the executive, legislative and judicial institutions," said Mr Zhang, who is Beijing's top official in Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong is not a political system that exercises the separation of powers, not before the hand- over, not after the handover," he added.
Mr Zhang also said that Hong Kong is a jurisdiction directly under the central government, with the appointed chief executive as the core in an "executive-led, judicially independent political system", reported the South China Morning Post.
Mr Zhang's comments angered several lawmakers, who said Beijing was giving the chief executive unchecked control.
Legislative Council member Alan Leong told the South China Morning Post that the chief executive was being put on a pedestal "like an emperor", and that neither the legislative nor the judicial systems could keep him accountable.
Mr Lee Cheuk Yan, chairman of the pro-democracy Labour Party, said Mr Zhang's comments undermined the Basic Law. "In the long run, how would Hong Kongers have faith in the Basic Law, whose meaning has always been changing?" he told the Post.
But Professor Lau Siu Kai, vice- chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a top official think-tank, told the Post that despite the comments, the chief executive is not exempt from the checks and balances of the judiciary and legislature.
"From the mainland's perspective, it is a separation of powers under the leadership of the executive. The three powers are not equally important and do not share the same status," Prof Lau said. "Under the Basic Law, the executive, legislature and judiciary have their own powers and duties. But the chief executive's position is supreme."
The Post reported that according to the Basic Law, the chief executive's powers and functions include signing Bills passed by the Legislative Council and promulgating laws, to appoint or remove judges of the courts at all levels in accordance with legal procedures, and to decide on government policies and to issue executive orders.
The law also states that the Legislative Council can file a motion charging the chief executive with serious breach of law or dereliction of duty in a process that can lead to impeachment after an investigation by the judiciary, said the Post.