Mr Lam pointed out that Hong Kong would have universal suffrage because of the Basic Law, not the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
He explained that in 1976 when the ICCPR was applied to Hong Kong, a reservation on Article 25(b) had made it not applicable to Hong Kong. In accordance with the notification given by the Central People's Government to the United Nations Secretary General in 1996 and Article 39 of the Basic Law, the reservation continues to apply.
However, in 1990 when the Basic Law was enacted, the Central Authorities responded to the views of the Hong Kong community and stipulated universal suffrage as the ultimate aim to be attained. Therefore, the attaining of universal suffrage originates from the Basic Law, and it is not because of the fact that the ICCPR is applicable to Hong Kong.
Mr Lam added that in attaining universal suffrage, we would act according to certain objective requirements and the constitutional framework. By constitutional design of the Basic Law, any change to our electoral system requires consensus among the three parties concerned, i.e. two-thirds majority support in the Legco, consent of the Chief Executive, and endorsement by the National People's Congress Standing Committee. The Government also hopes that any proposal for implementing universal suffrage can attract majority public support. In the coming months, universities and think-tanks will conduct independent opinion polls, and we will track the level of public support for various proposals closely.
Mr Lam said the Government had been very open in setting out all key issues in the Green Paper.
Options for the universal suffrage timetable include: 2012, 2017 or beyond 2017 for the Chief Executive; and 2012, 2016 or beyond 2016 for Legco.
Options for the composition and size of the nominating committee for the Chief Executive election include: forming the nominating committee by less than 800 members; forming the nominating committee by 800 members; and forming the nominating committee by more than 800 members, for example, 1,200 or 1,600 members.
Options for the number of candidates to be put forth for Chief Executive election by the public include: 10 candidates or more; eight candidates at most; and two to four candidates at most.
Article 45 of the Basic Law provides that we should establish "a broadly representative nominating committee" to nominate Chief Executive candidates "in accordance with democratic procedures" for universal suffrage election. Many have focused their attention on what constitutes "democratic procedures".
Mr Lam considered that, at this stage, the community should first strive to agree on the number of candidates which the nominating committee should put forth. The public will then have a clearer idea of the scale of the general election. Thereafter, detailed nomination procedures can be discussed and agreed upon.
Another key issue is how the Legislative Council's Functional Constituency (FC) elections can be replaced. Options for this issue include: replacing the FC seats with district-based seats returned through direct election; retaining the FC seats, but changing the electoral method; and increasing the number of seats representing District Councils in Legco.
In discussing the roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and Legco, the Green Paper has also included suggestions that "Universal suffrage for the Chief Executive should precede that for Legco" for the public to discuss.
Mr Lam emphasised, "The HKSAR Government has not taken a view on these issues. However, once consensus is attained on the above key issues, universal suffrage is achievable. Our hope is that thereafter candidates standing for Chief Executive and Legco elections will focus their manifestos on improvements to the economy, social services and livelihood issues - much in the same way as Western politicians run their election campaigns. Hong Kong will no longer need to agonise unceasingly over the issue of constitutional development."
Mr Lam also gave an account of the further development of the political appointment system. He said that aside from the hardware of electoral arrangements, we would also need to develop the software of political talent.
"We have plans to put forth, later this year, proposals for creating two additional tiers of political appointment: Under-Secretaries who can speak in the legislature for the Government, and Political Assistants who can assist the Policy Secretaries in liaising with different community groups. The system of Permanent Secretaries will stay, and the apolitical civil service will provide administrative continuity."
In his concluding remarks, Mr Lam said that the third-term HKSAR Government was committed to dealing with the issue of universal suffrage to set the course for Hong Kong's constitutional development for decades to come. He hoped that political parties and the community at large would support these policies and initiatives, so that Hong Kong's democratic system could progress in accordance with the Basic Law.
Ends/Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Issued at HKT 19:23