HONG KONG (AFP/REUTERS) - A senior Hong Kong lawmaker was expelled from a prestigious Chinese government body on Wednesday, in a sign that Beijing will not tolerate dissent from loyalists over pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous city.
Mr James Tien had his “qualifications revoked” as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the state-run China News Service said.
The prominent businessman and politician had criticised Hong Kong’s embattled leader Leung Chun Ying for failing to put an end to more than a month of pro-democracy protests – an unusual move for a pro-Beijing lawmaker.
Speaking to the press after Beijing's announcement, Mr Tien said although the move to purge him was decided after a vote by the CPPCC's standing committee on Wednesday afternoon, he had been aware of his fate since Monday.
He added that he will tender his resignation as leader of the Liberal Party on Wednesday night.
“In the case of CPPCC, my voice was not acceptable,” said Mr Tien. “If I want to represent the Hong Kong people, to give them a voice...my resignation (as leader of the Liberal Party) will allow me to better serve Hong Kong people as a lawmaker.”
This is the first time Clause 29, which allows the CPPCC to remove delegates for “serious violation” of the rules, has been invoked, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK said.
The CPPCC voted to pass the “decision on revoking Tian Beijun’s membership in the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference", the government body said, using Tien’s name in Mandarin and without providing further details.
Hong Kong demonstrators have staged street rallies for more than a month, calling for free leadership elections for the former British colony in 2017. The demonstrations present the most concerted challenge to Beijing’s authority since the bloody 1989 Tiananmen protests.
Mr Tien’s younger brother Michael, another Hong Kong lawmaker, told AFP ahead of the announcement that his brother was being punished for perceived disloyalty to Mr Leung.
“The decision is definitely based on my brother’s comments about CY (Leung Chun-ying),” Michael Tien said.
Mr James Tien is a senior member of the city’s pro-business Liberal Party. He said last week that Mr Leung should consider resigning for failing to clear the protesters from the streets.
“Residents are ignoring court injunctions (to disperse) and pan-democrats are being uncooperative. How is he going to govern?” Tien said on Friday, according to the South China Morning Post.
Despite hailing from Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp, the 67-year-old politician is no stranger to ruffling political feathers. In 2003 he withdrew his party’s support for a government-backed national security bill amid large street protests, leading to the legislation’s collapse and the eventual resignation of Hong Kong’s then-leader Tung Chee Hwa.
He backed Mr Leung’s opponent Henry Tang in the 2012 race to be the city’s chief executive.
Mr Leung’s popularity has taken a nosedive since the protests began last month. A poll this week by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed he now scores 38.6 on an approval scale among voters running from 0 to 100 – his lowest since taking office in July 2012, when his score was 53.9.
A hate figure among protesters, who are calling for him to resign, Mr Leung stirred fresh anger last week when he said that open elections were not feasible because they would result in the city’s poor dominating politics. It is rare for establishment politicians like Mr Tien to voice anything other than unflinching support for Mr Leung.
Beijing has refused to back down on its recent decision that all candidates running for the top Hong Kong post in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee, a decision the protesters say will result in the election of a pro-Beijing stooge. The Communist Party has thrown its full support behind the local Hong Kong administration, branding the protests as influenced by hostile foreign forces.
Mr Tien’s brother said the central government had little tolerance for any dissent at such a crucial time.
“President Xi (Jinping) himself has openly announced and had asked for all the support. The timing is crucial,” said Michael Tien, adding that Beijing leaders expect the city’s establishment politicians to support the city top leader “whole-heartedly”.
“If there is any change at this moment (within the city’s leadership), the Occupy movement is going to turn into a severe, ugly crisis... They need CY Leung to stay here and resolve the crisis,” he said.
The CPPCC is a discussion body that is part of the Communist party-controlled governmental structure.