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SCMA speaks on discussions at Constitutional Development Task Group meeting

    Following is the transcript of the meet-the-media session held by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after the third meeting of the Task Group on Constitutional Development of the Commission on Strategic Development today (April 25) (English portion):

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: At today's third meeting of the Task Group on Constitutional Development of the Commission on Strategic Development, members expressed views in particular on three aspects.

    Firstly, regarding the size of the Legislative Council (LegCo) for 2012, most members who expressed a view were in favour of increasing the size of the LegCo to 70 seats. There were a few opinions which suggested that we should retain the current mix of 60 seats. Some suggested that maybe we should consider increasing it to 80 seats. But most who expressed a view suggested that 70 seats for 2012 would be appropriate.

    Secondly, on the basis of the decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in December last year, half of these seats in 2012 should be geographical constituencies and half should be functional constituencies. Therefore, we would need to consider what sort of functional constituencies should be designed, in particular for the new functional seats. On this aspect, there were two schools of thought. Quite a few members suggested that we should assign the newly created functional seats to District Councilors, for them to elect additional Legislative Councilors from among themselves. This would enhance the district representation of the new LegCo in 2012. The other school of thought was that maybe we should embrace constituencies which were not yet included in the functional groups. For example, Chinese medicine practitioners, SMEs and women's groups. But this is still a process through which we are exploring various ideas. No firm decisions and no final consensus had emerged on this aspect today.

    Finally, regarding the current arrangement under the Basic Law whereby 20 per cent of the seats in the legislature can be filled by members who hold foreign passports, there were various views. Most members regarded the current arrangement as underlining and underpinning the international character of Hong Kong as an international metropolis, and therefore this arrangement should be retained for now. But for the longer term, there were those who suggested that perhaps by the time we attained universal suffrage for the legislature, maybe we should do a review then. After all, the arrangement of allowing foreign passport holders to be legislators was a sort of transitional arrangement. But members did not really regard this to be a very critical issue – this is a matter which we can keep under review and take a position on at a later point in time.

Reporter: You've mentioned the option of incorporating new sectors into the functional constituencies. Did members actually discuss how or who should decide which sectors to include?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: At this stage, this is purely exploratory. No firm conclusions have been drawn. Certainly, on the part of the Government, we are not in a position to put forth a firm proposal. Of course, as and when we come to the point of proposing, say, an expansion in the size of the legislature, then we would need to put forth a proposed amendment to Annex II of the Basic Law. As and when we are in that position, we would need to secure two-thirds majority in the legislature to vote in favour of such a proposal. So, representatives of geographical constituencies, representatives of functional constituencies will all have a role to play. And I would believe that the election to be held in September 2008 will be very important because this is going to be the LegCo which will determine our constitutional elections in 2012 and whether any changes to the Basic Law can be made in that regard.

Reporter: You mentioned that the Government is taking one step at a time. Are you concerned or worried that without a clear definition of universal suffrage, the new proposal would once again be vetoed by the pan-democratic camp?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would say that in terms of principle, the HKSAR Government has already made it abundantly clear that in implementing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and for the LegCo, we would subscribe to the principles of equal and universal suffrage. But for the current term Government, the third-term HKSAR Government, our mission is to deal with the electoral methods for 2012. This is the basis on which we act. This also complies with the decision taken by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in December last year. As for the implementation of universal suffrage in 2020 for the LegCo, that task is reserved for the Chief Executive to be returned by universal suffrage in 2017. He would have to work together with the LegCo to be elected in 2016 to deal with that final phase of attaining universal suffrage. As far as we are concerned, having met with the Task Group on Constitutional Development for three times and having listened to various opinions in the LegCo in the last few months, I think a practical way forward would be in designing the methods for forming the legislature in 2012, in particular if we increase the number of seats for functional constituencies, we should try to design constituencies which have a good representation and a higher degree of participation by the public. Then, I think, if we proceed on that basis in those directions, we stand a better chance of attaining consensus for 2012.

Reporter: I don't mean to be rude but what you are telling us today is very similar, if not exactly the same as what you told us last time. So would you say that the task group is actually making little progress in discussing those issues? Are members very divided?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would say that we are narrowing differences. It is now clearer that if we are to increase the size of the LegCo for 2012, more opinions are in favour of raising the number of members to 70. Also, it is now clearer that if we increase the number of functional constituency seats, then we need to devise functional constituencies which have broader representation. Only in that manner would we stand a better chance of obtaining consensus within the LegCo and in the broad community. I think these discussions are useful, and I can see that across the political spectrum, there is a readiness on the parts of political parties to secure some form of consensus so that we can broaden the room for political participation and that we can bring Hong Kong's electoral systems forward.

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

Ends/Friday, April 25, 2008