|SCA: Need to build constitutional development consensus by mid-2005
Following is the transcript of a stand-up briefing given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after attending a constitutional development conference this (November 6) morning (English portion):
Reporter: You are talking about the consensus reached by the middle of next year, from my understanding. Do you think that this is going to be quite challenging given the short time span, and the extremes of points of view?
SCA: We intend to issue a fourth report of the Constitutional Development Task Force before the end of the year. The fourth report will consolidate all the views which we have received in the last five months. We will provide another period of several months for the community to express further views on the question of constitutional development. Our hope is that round about the middle of 2005, a consensus will emerge from the community and thereafter we will issue a fifth report to set out a mainstream proposal in the hope that we can secure more enhanced support from the public and from among Legislative Councillors. This will then enable us to effect a process for amending Annexes I and II of the Basic Law and thereafter deal with local legislation.
Reporter: You are talking about a period of about six to eight months but there are still persistent calls for universal suffrage to be introduced in 2007 and 2008. Do you really expect that their consensus will be reached at that time in your timetable?
SCA: Hong Kong is a pluralistic society, and it is still (true) that as things stand, we still have a pluralism of views on methods for amending the electoral systems for the Chief Executive in 2007 and for the Legislative Council in 2008. But we have dealt with many challenges before in Hong Kong. Prior to 1997, we made valiant attempts and efforts to secure a smooth transition for Hong Kong. We succeeded in doing that. If we could deal with the question of 1997, I am sure that with Hong Kong's ingenuity and persistence, we can deal with 2007.
Reporter: You have said a number of times this morning that Hong Kong is not in a position to decide its future on constitutional reform. You said that here and also inside. Does it mean that if an unofficial referendum is to take place and public sentiment at the time they're stating is next year still is that universal suffrage is urged for 2007. Will the government continue to disregard what public sentiment is?
SCA: I think the ultimate aim of universal suffrage is widely supported in Hong Kong community. What we have to debate now is a question of pace and form for attaining that ultimate aim and for improving the electoral systems for 2007 and 2008. I think everybody understands that we need to go through the process of the Basic Law to secure two-thirds majority support in the Legislative Council, support of the Chief Executive for any proposals put forth and endorsement by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. This is the constitutional procedure and we do not need to add to this procedure by way of a referendum. But the public opinions and sentiment which we received in the context of our public consultation, we will reflect very fully to the Central Authorities in the same way as we have done so in the past 10 months.
Reporter: If nothing is changed, and the status quo remains as it is now at the same time next year in 2005, will you consider that is a consensus despite calls for universal suffrage in 2007?
SCA: I would say that the political leaders in the Legislative Council and members elected by the public all understand that they have a constitutional duty under the Basic Law to try to improve the electoral systems for 2007 and 2008. We certainly hope to work together with them in the months ahead to secure this consensus. We do not underrate the steepness of this challenge and the hill which we have to climb. But if we could solve 1997, I think there is hope that we can, through co-operation and joint efforts, solve 2007.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion.)
Ends/Saturday, November 6, 2004