Following is a question by Hon James To and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (June 24):
The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs said early this month in a media interview that he was worried about the intensifying social conflicts over the constitutional reform issues. Following the voting on the constitutional reform proposals by this Council, Hong Kong would move on to the "post-constitutional reform" era, in which the Government would focus on rebuilding the relationship between the Central Authorities and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in particular that between Beijing and members from the pan-democratic camp. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the Government has, after the discussions on the constitutional reform issues by various sectors of the community in the last two years, reassessed Hong Kong people's aspirations for the selection of the Chief Executive by means of genuine universal suffrage without screening;
(2) of the work plan and timetable set by the Government for implementing the provisions in the Basic Law on the selection of the Chief Executive and the formation of the Legislative Council ultimately by universal suffrage after the voting on the constitutional reform proposals by this Council; and
(3) whether it has assessed how the relationship between the Central Authorities and members from the pan-democratic camp may be improved and mutual trust may be built, so that the governance by the Government will better meet the overall interests of Hong Kong and uphold the core values of Hong Kong?
To attain the ultimate aim of selecting the Chief Executive (CE) by universal suffrage provided for in Article 45 of the Basic Law, after two rounds of extensive and systematic public consultations which lasted for a total of seven months, the HKSAR Government put forward a package of proposals for the method for selecting the CE by universal suffrage, and on June 2, 2015 moved at the Legislative Council (LegCo) a motion to amend Annex I to the Basic Law concerning the method for the selection of the CE. The proposals are constitutionally in order, lawful, reasonable and rational. Unfortunately, with 28 Members voting against, the motion was vetoed at the LegCo meeting on June 18, 2015. The HKSAR Government has expressed deep regret over the 28 Members' vetoing the motion, and is disappointed that constitutional development has come to a standstill as a result. The aim of selecting the CE in 2017 by universal suffrage has fallen through; it is difficult to know when the aim of selecting all Members of the LegCo by universal suffrage could be attained. Our reply to the questions raised by the Hon To is as follows.
According to the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by Universal Suffrage and on the Method for Forming the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the Year 2016 adopted on August 31, 2014, if the motion moved by the HKSAR Government to amend Annex I to the Basic Law concerning the method for the selection of the CE could not obtain endorsement by a two-thirds majority of all Members of the LegCo, the method for selecting the fourth term CE in 2012 will continue to be adopted to select the fifth term CE in 2017, i.e., the CE is to be elected by a 1 200-member Election Committee. As the Government has reiterated in many occasions earlier on, it would be legally infeasible and impracticable in terms of timetable for the current term Government to restart the "Five-step Process" of constitutional development. Whether or not the next term Government would restart the "Five-step Process" should naturally be decided by the next CE.
The work of the current term HKSAR Government in taking forward constitutional development has come to an end. The CE has clearly stated that in the remaining two years, the current term Government will focus on handling economic and livelihood policies. The HKSAR Government hopes that different sectors of the community could work together, enhance communication with each other, and rebuild mutual trust in tackling various economic development and livelihood issues.
As the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs mentioned in his closing remarks for the motion to amend the method for the selection of the CE at the LegCo meeting on June 18, the relationship between the Central Authorities and the HKSAR is the core issue for the selection of the CE by universal suffrage. To successfully implement universal suffrage in the future, we must have "three bases" handled properly, namely legal basis, communication basis, and basis of mutual trust.
On legal basis, the Basic Law has clearly stipulated, under the "One Country, Two Systems", the relationship between the Central Authorities and the HKSAR; the constitutional powers of the Central Authorities; as well as the respective powers vested in the LegCo, the CE, and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) in handling constitutional development. This constitutional order has to be recognised and respected by different sectors of the community. It is clearly stipulated in the Constitution of our Country, the Basic Law, and the relevant Interpretation and Decisions of the NPCSC. Therefore, any constitutional development proposal must be formulated strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant Interpretation and Decisions of the NPCSC. Consensus could be forged only when all are on this same legal basis.
On communication basis, we consider communication very important in narrowing differences and avoiding misunderstandings. At the May 31 meeting in Shenzhen, some pan-democratic Members expressed to officials of the Central Authorities their wish to have sustained communication. However, the key to successful communication lies not in the form of communication, but the attitudes of both sides. Even with appropriate arrangements, such efforts could not bring any substantive results if the communication was not conducted with sincerity, open minds, willingness to listen, or in a respectful manner. In fact, the HKSAR Government has in the past arranged a number of precious opportunities for the pan-democratic Members to directly communicate with the Central Authorities on constitutional development, but regrettably some Members did not grasp such opportunities; some pan-democratic Members even made use of the opportunities to make political postures and take all sorts of unnecessary actions, simply wasting those communication opportunities.
The final basis is the basis of mutual trust. Mutual trust takes time and a process to build. Only when all parties could return to the same legal basis and make good use of the communication basis, could mutual trust be gradually built. During the process, any inappropriate gesture or expression may destroy the mutual trust.
Without the establishment and consolidation of the "three bases" mentioned above to strengthen the relationship between the Central Authorities and the HKSAR, we are afraid there are insufficient objective conditions in the community to kick-start the "Five-step Process" to achieve universal suffrage for the CE election.
Ends/Wednesday, June 24, 2015