Patten shrugs off motion of no confidence

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The Independent Online
For the first time in Hong Kong's history, the colony's legislators have tabled a motion of no confidence in the Governor.

The decision by the Democratic Party, which earlier supported Chris Patten's political reforms, shows how deeply isolated the Governor has become.

Martin Lee, the Democrats' leader, said Mr Patten had brought this on himself by striking a deal with China on the post-1997 court of final appeal which, "compromised the rule of law". Although the motion has no constitutional force in a system that gives the Governor sweeping powers, its passage would strike a blow to the credibility of Mr Patten's administration. Its chances of being passed are good, as no pro-China legislators are likely to rally to the Governor's support, leaving the fence-sitters in the awkward position of having to side with Mr Patten despite their disagreements with him.

Mr Patten said he "was not loosing any sleep" over the motion, adding: "I think it's gesture politics, empty-gesture politics." Kerry McGlynn, the Governor's spokesman, said there were "absolutely no constitutional repercussions". According to Mr McGlynn, the real test of the Governor's credibility will come at the end of July, two weeks after the no-confidence debate, when the legislature will decide whether to endorse the Sino-British agreement on the court of final appeal. The agreement limits the number of foreign judges who will sit on the court, does not allow it to be established until after the 1997 Chinese takeover, and takes away the court's powers to rule on "acts of state", which may include a range of government actions. It is unclear whether the administration will win a majority to endorse the agreement.

Cheung Man Kwong, the Democrat legislator who will move the no-confidence motion, said it was typical of Hong Kong's colonial structure that "all decisions, through secret Sino-British negotiations, are made above Hong Kong people's heads".

The Governor's isolation is acute in political and business circles, and his popularity among the public is falling, although he retains the support of about half the population. His problem is that he promised too much. When he arrived three years ago, he seemed a breath of fresh air, blowing away the cobwebs of the stuffy colonial system. But he alienated the influential business community, for whom appeasement of China is a priority, and disappointed the democracy camp, which expected him to stand up to Chinese demands.