Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam told the media ahead of the regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday that she was leaving open the possibility of invoking a colonial-era law to fight back against the escalating anti-government protests.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance – formulated in 1922 and rarely used by the colonial British government until the 1967 leftist riots in Hong Kong – if used today would give chief executive Lam sweeping powers, from authorising arrests, detentions, deportations and punishment, to censoring the press, seizing property, changing laws or enacting new ones, along with total control of all transport, manufacturing and trade in the city, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Lam saying she was considering invoking the emergency powers drew strong opposition from her allies and pan-democrats.
Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan, a lawmaker representing the textiles and garment constituency, said it would be unsuitable as Hong Kong was an international financial center and has been dependent on foreign investors, who would likely cut and leave their investments in the city if the government deployed the rarely-used ordinance.
New People’s Party chairwoman and Executive Councilor Regina Ip highlighted the fact that there were risks associated with invoking this ordinance as no one knew what its impact would be.
For example, if it was introduced to ban protesters from wearing masks to hide their identities, the likely result would be even more people covering their faces.
The pan-democrat camp also warned that invoking the law would spell doom for the city. Council Front legislator Claudia Mo said the ordinance would turn Carrie Lam’s administration from an ‘authoritarian government’ into a ‘dictatorship.’
Democratic Party lawmaker James To warned that invoking the law would only backfire, as it was no different from martial law. If all protests were banned, even peaceful and rational people would come forward to strongly oppose the government.
Meanwhile, Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai from the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong, who attended the dialogue platform last Saturday, said the biggest common factor in Hong Kong would be the full withdrawal of the anti-extradition bill and an independent inquiry into protest clashes, which were two of the five demands that most of the attendees at the meeting agreed to.
He criticized Lam and her administration and said they should express genuine sincerity to the general public in the dialogue, instead of ruling the city with an elitist mindset.