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SCA speaks on discussions at Governance and Political Development Committee meeting

Following is a transcript of a media briefing by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after the meeting of the Committee on Governance and Political Development of the Commission on Strategic Development today (June 21) (English portion):

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: I would like to emphasise that after about 20 months of discussion in the Commission on Strategic Development, we have now laid a foundation for the public consultation of the Green Paper on constitutional development to commence. Today’s meeting has involved quite a lot of discussion about the possibility of promoting the Chief Executive (CE) universal suffrage first to be followed by the universal suffrage implementation for the Legislative Council (LegCo). But I must emphasise that at this juncture the HKSAR Government has not taken a view on this point. The only observation that I would make is that in the course of the last one-and-a-half years, we have narrowed differences on the question of implementing universal suffrage for the CE more than we have narrowed differences on the question of implementing universal suffrage for the LegCo.

Basically, most political parties are now agreed that we should implement universal suffrage for returning the CE by forming a nominating committee. Once the nominating committee has followed democratic procedures and put forth a few candidates, we should go for one-man, one-vote universal suffrage elections.

Therefore, the questions to be examined now involve what size of the nominating committee (should be), what sort of democratic nomination procedures we should follow. These are very specific and important questions.

On the aspects of universal suffrage for returning the LegCo, most members of the Commission agreed that the present form of functional constituency election should be amended in order to attain universal suffrage.

There are various models put forth. There are those who suggest that we should abolish the functional constituencies and replace them by the geographical direct elections. There are those who say that perhaps we can retain the functional constituencies, allow them to nominate candidates and then allow registered voters to select those who should represent these constituencies in the LegCo.

These aspects are basically still open for further discussions and we shall examine and explore these aspects in the context of the public consultation exercise on the Green Paper.

As regards the Green Paper, we have now received quite a lot of input. After the establishment of the third term Government on July 1, this will be one of our immediate priorities: to determine the contents of the Green Paper and to launch the public consultation exercise.

The Green Paper public consultation is only a start. This is an important starting point for the next five years in terms of dealing with constitutional development as an important issue for the Hong Kong community.

After the three-month public consultation exercise, there will be other stages in which the question of universal suffrage will be further discussed. It will be up to the HKSAR Government, at the appropriate time, to put forth proposed amendments to Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. Following that stage, at a later stage, we also have to put forth specific amendments to the CE Election Ordinance and the LegCo Ordinance. So, in the years ahead, there will be many opportunities for us to examine and discuss jointly the question of implementation universal suffrage.

Reporter: Before asking questions about the specifics, a kind of more general question. I wonder whether recent comments by Wu Bongguo have influenced ... (inaudible...)

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: I would say that the statement made by Chairman Wu basically reflects the provisions and principles of the Basic Law. The implementation of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, for returning the CE and the LegCo, must clearly be based on the provisions of the Basic Law and the specific requirements set out in Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. So far as the Commission’s discussion is concerned, we have always based our discussion on the Basic Law. So we just carry on. That’s all I would say.

Reporter: (...inaudible...)

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: The principle of executive-led Government was already discussed last year and endorsed by members of the Commission.

Reporter: What sort of proposals were discussed at the meeting? Do you expect them to be implemented or accepted by 2012? Do you expect any opposition ... from Beijing?

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: I would say that the discussion which we have had in the course of the last 20 months has been very wide-ranging. We are now focused on specific questions with regard to implementation of universal suffrage. For example, as regards the CE election, we are now focused on specific issues such as the size of the nominating committee, what sort of procedures should be adopted or for the nominating committee to put forth a number of candidates for return by universal suffrage election. As far as the Hong Kong community is concerned, we need to focus on these specific issues in the coming months. Provided that we can secure a consensus within Hong Kong, if we have, say 60 per cent of the community in support of a mainstream proposal and if we can secure a two-thirds majority in the LegCo, then I think we stand a good chance of gaining Beijing's endorsement of these proposals to be put forth.

Reporter: You mentioned just now that the differences have narrowed in respect of finding a way for electing the CE using universal suffrage. What is your personal opinion now as to how optimistic you are that there will be some democratic progress by 2012? In the event that there might be a stalemate, perhaps the bar is set too high in getting 60 per cent support a two-thirds majority in LegCo, in the event that there is some kind of bottleneck, what guarantees can you provide that you will not seek an interpretation from the NPCSC if at all possible?

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: What I would say is that the HKSAR Government certainly does not wish to see a stalemate. We have worked very hard on the issue of universal suffrage for over 20 months. The CE, during his recent election campaign, has made it abundantly clear that he wishes to tackle the issue of universal suffrage during his next five-year term. The decision taken by Mr Donald Tsang is more advanced, more progressive than that taken by any previous term of Hong Kong Government. We have been able to put forth this proposition because we believe we have already laid a firm foundation for taking forward the issue of universal suffrage. Of course, political reality is that it is up to us to secure two-thirds majority in the LegCo for any final package to be put forth. And in politics. one week is already a very long time. So I am now on the verge of commencing a three-month public consultation period. It would be wise of me to reply to your question by saying that this Government has every commitment to pursue this agenda and that we do not wish Hong Kong to stand still.

Reporter: As you have indicated that there is more agreement on the CE election than that is on the LegCo election and that the CE election will come first in terms of timing, would it make some sense in doing the consultation to address first that which has more agreement and leave for later that which has less agreement? Would you phase the consultation into two parts? In a ... context, why do you say that the CE's proposals ... are more progressive than any term has made before?

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: The CE during his election campaign made it clear that during the third term between 2007 and 2012, the HKSAR Government would deal with the question of universal suffrage and would seek to find a set of answers on this question for the Hong Kong community. This is actually the first time in Hong Kong’s history that a CE has established a forum to discuss specifically and in detail different models, possible roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage. And because he has made it clear that this issue will be addressed in the next five years, I say the position taken by Mr Donald Tsang as the CE, is more advanced, more progressive than that taken by any previous term of Hong Kong Government. That is a statement of fact in itself.

Now as regard the question of comparative ease of implementing universal suffrage for the CE and for the LegCo, as things stand, the HKSAR Government has not taken a view. So far as we are concerned, it is important for the public and for the community to discuss in detail different options for implementing universal suffrage both for the CE and for the LegCo.

We have not ruled out any option whatsoever at this stage. And therefore, the proposal for implementing universal suffrage in 2012 both for the CE and the Legco put forth by 22 Legislative Concillors will be included in our Green Paper along with other proposals we have received in the past 20 months. At this stage, we want the discussions on the Green paper to be as open, as wide-ranging as possible. Only by so doing do we stand the best possible chance of finding a set of solutions for Hong Kong and one which can attract broad consensus within the community.

Reporter: As you got a narrower differences under the CE than you have for the LegCo, would it not make some sense - if you really want to see some progress - to sequence your actions such that you get the CE election out of the way first and then deal perhaps subsequently...the LegCo

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: At this stage, we do not want to rule out any option for attaining universal suffrage either for the CE or for the LegCo. We believe we can capably deal with both set of issues and try to seek a consensus to the extent possible in the months ahead.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript)

Ends/Thursday, June 21, 2007