|Speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs
Following is the speech (English translation) by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in moving the Motion on the Amendment to the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive at the Legislative Council Meeting today (December 21) :
I hereby move that the first motion standing under my name in the agenda, that is, the Motion on the Amendment to the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive, be passed. Later on, I will move another motion on the amendment to the method for the formation of the Legislative Council (Legco).
In its Fifth Report published on October 19 this year, the Constitutional Development Task Force put forth a package of proposals on the methods for selecting the Chief Executive in 2007 and for forming the Legislative Council in 2008. The package of proposals is the result of 18 months of extensive public consultation. It is consistent with the provisions of the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (the Basic Law) as well as the Interpretation and Decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (the NPCSC) in April last year, and is a substantive and democratic package, leading Hong Kong's political structure towards the ultimate aim of universal suffrage.
Madam President, please allow me to briefly introduce the content of the motion. In accordance with the provisions of Article 7 of Annex I to the Basic Law, the Interpretation by the NPCSC of Article 7 of Annex I and Article III of Annex II to the Basic Law on April 6, 2004, and the Decision of the NPCSC on Issues relating to the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive in the year 2007 and for Forming the Legco in the year 2008 on April 26, 2004, the Administration moves that the Motion on the Amendment to the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive be passed. If the motion is passed by Legco by a two-thirds majority of all Members, the "(Draft) Amendment to Annex I to the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China Regarding the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" (referred to as "the Annex I (Draft) Amendment" hereinafter), which is annexed to the motion, will be submitted to the Chief Executive for consent and thence for reporting by the Chief Executive to the NPCSC for approval.
According to the Annex I (Draft) Amendment, the Election Committee to select the third term Chief Executive in 2007 shall be composed of 1,600 members, and the number of sectors shall remain at four. The term of office of the Election Committee shall be five years.
The number of members allocated to the First, Second and Third Sectors of the Election Committee will be increased, respectively, from 200 at present to 300. As to the allocation of seats among the subsectors under these three sectors, the Administration considers that, in principle, there could be proportional increase in the seats in accordance with the existing allocation of seats to the subsectors. However, detailed arrangements could be dealt with in the context of the Chief Executive Election (Amendment) Bill (referred to as "the Bill" hereinafter).
The number of seats in the Fourth Sector of the Election Committee will be increased from 200 at present to 700. According to the Administration's proposal, all District Council members will be included in the Fourth Sector. As all Members of Legco are included in the Fourth Sector, if the Motion on the Amendment to the Method for the Formation of the Legco is passed, the number of Election Committee seats allocated to Legco will only be increased from 60 at present to 70 in 2008, which is after the formation of the Election Committee in early 2007. We will deal with the relevant transitional arrangements in the Bill.
As regards the mechanism for nominating candidates for the Chief Executive election, according to the Annex I (Draft) Amendment, the number of subscribers required will be maintained at the ratio of one-eighth of total membership, i.e. candidates for the office of the Chief Executive may be nominated by not less than 200 members of the Election Committee. This arrangement will ensure that candidates have a certain level of support.
On the method for selecting the Chief Executive in 2007, the Administration also proposes that consideration be given to amending the Chief Executive Election Ordinance to establish an appropriate mechanism whereby, if only one candidate is validly nominated, election proceedings shall continue. If the Motion is passed, the relevant detailed arrangements will be dealt with in the Bill.
Madam President, after the publication of the Fifth Report of the Constitutional Development Task Force by the Administration, the House Committee set up a Subcommittee to study the relevant proposals of the Administration at its meeting on October 21, with the Hon. Tam Yiu-chung and Hon. Howard Young serving as Chairman and Vice-chairman of the Subcommittee respectively. On behalf of the Administration, I would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Hon. Tam and Hon. Young. May I also take this opportunity to thank the Legco Secretariat for their work, and the views of Members who participated in the subcommittee.
The subcommittee held a total of nine meetings, including a meeting with public deputations on November 12. At the meetings of the subcommittee, Government officials explained to Members in detail the Administration's proposals and position, and responded to questions raised by Members. We also listened carefully to Members' views, many of which are very useful to our preparatory work on drafting the Bill.
Madam President, the wording of the Administration's current Motion on the Amendment to the Method for the Selection of the Chief Executive is basically the same as the draft motion studied by the subcommittee. The only change that we have made is the deletion of the following sentences from the Annex I (Draft) Amendment concerning the amendment to the method for the selection of the Chief Executive at Annex B to the Fifth Report:
"In the event that the office of the Chief Executive becomes vacant during the term, the term of office of the new Chief Executive elected by the Election Committee shall be the remainder of the term of the preceding Chief Executive. The new Chief Executive may serve for one more term after expiry of the term."
The deletion was made after careful consideration of comments made by some members of the subcommittee. We are of the view that this issue could be dealt with in the context of local legislation. When we submit the Bill into Legco in due course, we will specify that the new Chief Executive elected in a by-election may only serve for one more term after expiry of the term.
The package has not come easily
Madam President, the SAR Government must emphasise that the proposed package put forth in the Fifth Report is extremely important for democratic development in Hong Kong. The Basic Law has set out clearly how the political system in Hong Kong should develop in the first 10 years after the Reunification. On this basis, we are now taking one step forward towards the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. This package, both in terms of substance and historical significance, is a crucial and positive step forward. The main thrust of the proposed package is to increase the democratic representation in the method for selecting the Chief Executive by enhancing the level of participation of District Council members in the Election Committee. I hope Members would understand that the package has not come easily. The SAR Government has conducted rounds of extensive public consultation for more than a year, and has made the greatest effort in finding the right balance amidst the various views and proposals of different sectors of the community. It has responded to the aspirations of the community for constitutional development, and has taken into account the interests of all strata and sectors of the community.
The package enhances democratic representation
Madam President, some Members regard the proposed package as a "rollback in democracy". I absolutely do not agree with this view. As a matter of fact, the proposed package will take forward democracy.
First, for the Election Committee to be formed in 2007, over one quarter of the membership, including more than 400 members returned by Legco direct elections and District Council elections, will be returned by more than three million registered voters in Hong Kong. In other words, over one quarter of the members of the Election Committee will have an electorate base of universal suffrage.
Second, the 529 members of the District Councils will take up almost one third of the seats in the Election Committee. It is envisaged that candidates for the office of Chief Executive will pay more attention to district affairs and the aspirations of the public.
Third, the package will help to enhance the status and role of the District Councils. If passed, the package will encourage more willing and able individuals to participate in District Council elections. This will facilitate further development of district administration, and thus help to nurture political talents and create favorable conditions for universal suffrage.
The Package has public support
Madam President, since the proposed package was released in mid October this year, opinion polls conducted by various institutions have clearly indicated that it has the support of the community. At the same time, these opinion polls also indicate that while there are aspirations in the community for a timetable for universal suffrage, most people do not want to see the Administration's proposals voted down because a specific timetable cannot be set at this stage. In other words, members of community hope that the 2007/08 proposed package can be passed, so that the two electoral methods can move forward. At the same time, they also hope that a timetable for universal suffrage can be set as soon as possible. The SAR Government considers that both views are genuine and deserve respect, and that we should not use one view to deny the other. Most members of the public have their ideals and yet are pragmatic. They consider that we should endorse the package on electoral arrangements in 2007 and 2008 first, so as to move forward towards the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. At the same time, we should commence active discussion on the roadmap and timetable for universal suffrage.
Further, after the package of proposals was released, the Chief Secretary for Administration immediately proceeded to meeting all 18 District Councils to listen to their views on the proposed package. A total of 364 DC members had given their views. Regardless of whether appointed members are counted or not, the number of District Council members supporting the package is greater than that opposing. This is a reflection that the package has support at the district level.
Roadmap and Timetable for Universal Suffrage
Madam President, the Administration addresses the aspirations of the community for a roadmap and timetable for universal suffrage in a positive manner. The Committee on Governance and Political Development under the Commission on Strategic Development, chaired by the Chief Executive, held its first meeting on November 29, formally commencing the discussions within the Hong Kong community on a roadmap for universal suffrage. As the Chief Executive has stated in public, the Government plans to take forward the relevant work in two stages. We will conduct discussions on principles and concepts relating to universal suffrage in the first stage. A preliminary conclusion on these discussions will be drawn around summer next year. Then we will begin the second stage to study the design of the electoral systems for the Chief Executive and LegCo when attaining universal suffrage. Conclusion on these discussions will be drawn in early 2007. On the basis of the conclusions, discussions on a timetable for universal suffrage will commence.
Madam President, the ultimate aim of universal suffrage is clearly enshrined in the Basic Law. The stance of the Central Authorities towards universal suffrage is unequivocal. In his meeting with the Chief Executive on November 18, President Hu Jintao said that it had all along been the established position of the Central Government to support the HKSAR in the development of democratic system in accordance with the laws, and in the light of the actual situation in Hong Kong and in a gradual and orderly manner. At his meeting with Legco Members, District Council chairmen and different sectors of the community on 2 December, Deputy Secretary General Qiao Xiaoyang of the NPCSC said he was aware that there were aspirations in the Hong Kong community both for the 2007/08 proposed package and for a timetable for universal suffrage; and that both aspirations should be respected and given recognition. Deputy Secretary General Qiao was also of the view that wide and thorough discussions on a roadmap and timetable for universal suffrage could be held, and a consensus forged on that basis.
If the proposed package is passed, the method for selecting the Chief Executive in 2007 will become more open and democratic. This will facilitate the early attainment of the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. In contrast, if the package is voted down, our task to take forward constitutional development in future will inevitably be adversely affected; and this will not be conducive to the early attainment of universal suffrage.
Appointed DC seats
Madam President, the SAR Government understands that some Members are concerned about the involvement of appointed District Council members in the electoral arrangements for the elections for the Chief Executive and for LegCo. In this regard, the Chief Secretary has announced a couple of days ago the proposed adjustment to the number of appointed DC seats and our relevant considerations. If the motions for the 2007/08 proposed package is passed by Legco, we will reduce the maximum number of appointed DC seats by one-third, i.e. from the existing 102 to 68, when the new term of DCs commences on January 1, 2008. Thereafter, we will, in the light of the prevailing situation, which would mainly be the reaction of the community and the operation of the DCs following the reduction in the appointed seats, decide before the end of 2011 whether to abolish all the remaining 68 appointed DC seats in 2012, or whether to reduce them by half to 34 seats in 2012, and then abolish all appointed DC seats in 2016.
This adjustment arrangement aims to address, in a positive manner, the concerns on appointed District Council seats. We hope that this will enhance Members’ support of the motion. This adjustment forms part of the overall package, but does not involve any amendment to the Motion that the Government moves today at Legco. If the Motion is passed by Legco, the Government will later implement the changes to the District Council appointed seats through amendments to local legislation. In the event that the Motion is rejected by Legco, we will not proceed with the changes to the District Council appointed seats. This is a subject which different sectors of the community can continue to discuss, for example, in the context of the review of the District Councils next year.
Madam President, this is the first time we propose to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executive in accordance with the provisions in Annex I to the Basic Law. We hope that our package will have the support of a two-thirds majority of all Legco Members, the consent of the Chief Executive and the approval of the NPCSC, so that we can take forward Hong Kong's democratic system. This will be a major milestone in Hong Kong's democratic development. During the past two year or so, the Government has spared no effort and has worked with the greatest sincerity in trying to build the broadest consensus in the community. If the package can come to fruition, we will not only take a substantive step forward in the democratic development of Hong Kong in 2007 and 2008, but more importantly, the mutual trust between the SAR and the Central Government on constitutional development will also be strengthened, thus creating more favourable conditions for achieving universal suffrage as soon as possible.
Whether Hong Kong is able to seize the opportunity before us will depend on Members' wisdom and courage. All Members here are elected representatives of our community. The aspirations in the community are crystal clear: they hope to have a timetable for universal suffrage as soon as possible, and also hope that the Government's package for 2007/08 will be passed. They do not want status quo. I hope that when Members cast their votes, they will follow the community's aspirations, so that Hong Kong's constitutional development will embark on a wider road which will lead towards the early attainment of the ultimate aim of universal suffrage.
Madam President, I urge Members to support the motion.
Ends/Wednesday, December 21, 2005