HK gets election ball rolling

Updated: 2013-12-05 01:24

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong (China Daily)

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Public consultation on new process will be sought for next five months

The premise that candidates in the future chief executive elections, to be conducted under universal suffrage, must "love the country and Hong Kong" is self-evident, said the chief secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who announced on Wednesday the launch of a five-month public consultation on electoral reform.

The Hong Kong SAR is ready for universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said as she presented the consultation paper on the long-awaited process to the Legislative Council.

The stipulation that a chief executive candidate must love the country and Hong Kong is not in the 57-page document.

"It is obvious that the CE has to be a person who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and doesn't oppose the central government. So, we think the statement is unnecessary because it is thoroughly reflected in the spirit of the Basic Law," she said.

However, views will still be welcome, Lam said, adding that the government is confident the electorate, including members of the nominating committee, will have the wisdom to choose a patriot as the city's chief.

Following a decision made by the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2007, the 2017 election could be the first in Hong Kong's history to choose its leader through universal suffrage, which is an ultimate goal as stated in Article 45 of the Basic Law.

The article also provides that nominees in the election must be chosen by "a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures". The NPC Standing Committee decided that the committee should be formed "with reference to" that of the electoral committee.

Lam, quoting the NPC Standing Committee Deputy Secretary-General Li Fei, said formation of the two committees will have many similarities. The paper says, however, there will be "appropriate room for adjustment", and she said it was too early to tell how ample the room for leeway will be.

Wide-ranging options are also offered on expanding the voter base and "democratic procedures" for the nominating committee, as well as voting arrangements to elect the chief executive. The consultation paper also looks for solutions in an unlikely event that the elected leader fails to secure appointment by Beijing.

Local legislation requires the SAR's chief to give up any political party membership before taking office.

The consultation paper provides no single answer to any question. Lam explained they are reluctant to reject any ideas at this time. When appropriate, however, the government will identify what proposals are considered to have defied the legal premises.

When asked if candidates could enter the race by petition of a certain portion of the electorate, a proposal pushed by the opposition, Lam reiterated that the nominating committee is the only institution empowered to nominate candidates.

Not only must proposals be practical and in conformity with the legal requirements of the Basic Law and NPC Standing Committee decisions, Lam said, but they must stand a reasonable chance of winning the approval of two-thirds of the Legislative Council, a majority of the general public, as well as the NPC Standing Committee.

The reform package will require the backing of at least five opposition legislators. Lam warned that if an impasse results, the whole society will run into political and economic instability, and no one would come out a winner, unless someone genuinely refuses to see universal suffrage happen.

In spite of the tough challenges ahead, the chief secretary said she was fully confident that members of the community, who highly treasure the rule of law, will eventually narrow their differences.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said that while the 2017 election would be the first to implement the "ultimate goal" of universal suffrage, the electoral setup itself would not be "ultimate" — it will still move with the times, going forward when necessary.

The consultation, due to end on May 4, is the first of five steps to overhaul the city's electoral systems. All views collected in the consultation will be compiled into a report, which will then be submitted to the NPC Standing Committee by the current chief executive.

If the NPC Standing Committee agrees to revise the election methods, the SAR government will table a concrete reform package to the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. It requires the support of two-thirds of all lawmakers and the chief executive before the package is submitted to the Standing Committee for final approval.

The local legislature will still have to amend local laws in accordance to the plan approved by the NPC Standing Committee.

Tam said the public opinion report is expected to reach the NPC Standing Committee by July next year and a final proposal will again invite public views in the second half of next year. While it's too early to tell how long the second consultation will take, he hopes to wrap it up before the end of 2014.