SCA: Dialogue conducive to consensus building
The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (July 30) said that the recent renewed commitment by different sectors of the community to engage in rational and positive dialogue was a welcome development.
"If we are able to leverage this pragmatism, I am confident that we can build community consensus on the way forward for constitutional development," he said.
Mr Lam made the above remarks when addressing a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation today.
"The Legislative Council (LegCo) election in September 2004 represents the next phase in our constitutional development. For the first time in Hong Kong's electoral history, we have 3.2 million people who can vote in the election, and that 50 per cent of the LegCo Members will be returned by direct election," he said.
"The ultimate aim of universal suffrage stipulated in the Basic Law is upheld by all parties concerned, including the people of Hong Kong, our political parties, the HKSAR Government and the Central Authorities. The key question of the current debate on constitutional development is, therefore, not one about the ultimate aim, but about the pace and form of how Hong Kong is
going to achieve that aim," he said.
"According to the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), there will not be universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008. But the decision still leaves us with plenty of scope for change," he added.
Mr Lam said that in May, the Constitutional Development Task Force published its third report setting out possible areas for amendment in relation to the methods for selecting the Chief Executive (CE) in 2007 and for forming the LegCo in 2008.
He said that as the consultation exercise was still under way, it was not yet time to draw any conclusions. However, he shared with participants some of his preliminary observations.
"Firstly, there is a body of opinion which supports expanding the size of the Election Committee (EC), and widening the electorate for returning the EC members," he said.
"Secondly, some opinions are in support of broadening the franchise of the functional constituencies.
"Thirdly, there are those who prefer to keep the number of LegCo seats at 60, but relatively more views have suggested an expansion," he said.
"On this and other aspects, we will continue to gauge public opinion," he added.
Mr Lam said that the electoral systems and political structure, that was the constitutional hardware, could not work on its own. "We would need the appropriate political software to ensure that our constitutional hardware operated smoothly according to design."
He said that the Accountability System introduced in 2002 represented an important step forward in building the political software. This allowed the CE to form a governing team of his own choice.
"Under the new system, there is a political team responsible for the governance of the HKSAR. Political appointees have borne the brunt of political pressure, while senior civil servants can be left to play their role impartially and professionally. Just imagine that if we do not have a senior political team in place, what impact recent political incidents would have had
on the civil service system," he said.
Another core element of the political software was the relationship between the executive authorities and the legislature.
"If we look at the empirical evidence, the overall relationship has been generally effective. In the last few years, practically all our major bills, 125 in total, were passed by the second term LegCo through consultation, negotiation and, very often, compromise," he explained.
"The appointment of leading members of two major parties to the Executive Council is designed to improve further the links between the executive authorities and the legislature," he said.
Mr Lam welcomed the emergence of a more tolerant political atmosphere in Hong Kong in recent months. He considered that this new mood of accommodation reflected the pragmatism of Hong Kong people and their forward-looking spirit
"The HKSAR Government is committed to strengthening our dialogue with all political groups and parties. We will also play our part in furthering communication and liaison between political parties and the Central Authorities," he said.
"During April, we made arrangements for the representatives of the NPCSC to meet with Members of the LegCo and representatives of political parties.
"On Sunday, all Members of the LegCo have been invited to attend a commemorative event organised by the Garrison of the People's Liberation Army in the HKSAR. This is yet another positive development which will hopefully improve communication and dialogue," he said.
Mr Lam considered that a readiness to talk was a most important starting point.
"All over the world, difficult and protracted political issues are best resolved through dialogue. In Hong Kong, we have solved the 1997 question - a major problem left over from history. The same political courage and determination should be able to guide us to settle on the best possible electoral arrangements for 2007 and 2008," he said.
In conclusion, Mr Lam said, "Politics is the art of the possible". He considered that people who had a role to play in Hong Kong's public life must embrace two principles.
"Firstly, we have to respect the constitutional order and work with the Central Authorities in promoting Hong Kong's constitutional development. This notion seems to have been more widely accepted in recent weeks.
"Secondly, people of different political colours should be prepared to work together over an electoral formula that can bring Hong Kong forward, closer to the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. We should be prepared to accommodate our mutual differences and widen the common ground," he said.
Ends/Friday, July 30, 2004