|LC: Speech by Secretary for Constitutional Affairs
Following is the speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Michael Suen, on the motion moved by the Honourable Emily Lau Wai-hing on "The Second Chief Executive Election" at the Legislative Council meeting today (March 14).
Method for Selecting the Chief Executive
The motion moved by the Honourable Emily Lau Wai-hing criticizes the method for selecting the second term Chief Executive (CE) for being undemocratic. It is a criticism that we absolutely cannot agree with. As many of you have mentioned just now, Article 45 and Annex I of the Basic Law have stipulated that the CE shall be elected by a broadly representative Election Committee (EC) and be appointed by the Central People's Government (CPG), and that the method for selecting the CE shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the CE by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Some Members, including the Honourable Emily LAU, have also mentioned this just now. Annex I of the Basic Law has also provided for a mechanism to amend the method for selecting the CEs for the terms subsequent to the year 2007. These arrangements have already been spelt out in the constitutional blueprint laid down in the Basic Law.
As regards the selection of the second term CE, it was conducted in accordance with the CE Election Ordinance which was passed in July last year upon the third reading by the Legislative Council (LegCo) after months of careful deliberation by Members. The election was conducted in accordance with this Ordinance. As the legal basis of the CE election, this piece of local legislation mainly follows the relevant articles of the Basic Law. No matter how we look at it, it is an indisputable fact that the Second CE Election has a sound constitutional and legal basis.
In short, the criticism that the election was undemocratic is mainly based on two arguments. The first argument is that the election was a so-called "small-circle" election. The second argument is that the process did not comply with the requirement as stipulated in the Basic Law that the CE shall be returned by "secret ballot on a one-person-one-vote basis".
Regarding the first argument, it is clearly provided in the Basic Law that ultimately the CE of the HKSAR shall be elected by universal suffrage. We are now in a transitional period. In fact, we are going through a process leading to the goal of universal suffrage. This is an indisputable fact. The disagreement only lies in the pace of such a process. Indeed, it has been prescribed in the Basis Law that the method for selecting the CE shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. Paragraph 7 of Annex I of the Basic Law provides that: -
"If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval."
Therefore, the Basic Law has, in no uncertain terms, spelt out both the way and the shortest possible time required to realise the aim of electing the CE by universal suffrage.
In discussing democratization, we must find out the suitable pace for achieving the ultimate aim, by considering our own circumstances and looking from various perspectives of sense, reason and law. We have the responsibility to seek a consensus among the community in this respect according to the Basic Law. Looking from this perspective, electoral arrangements adopted in a period of democratic transition are indeed a reflection of the practical needs of the SAR and should not be considered undemocratic.
As regards the second argument, I have to point out that the criticism has deliberately confused the two distinct electoral processes of nomination and voting. In other words, it equates the process of nomination with that of voting. It must be noted that, as only one candidate was validly nominated at the Second CE Election, the Returning Officer (RO) therefore declared that candidate elected ipso facto in accordance with the law. However, it does not mean that secret ballot on a one-person-one-vote basis would not be required for electing the CE designate if there were more than one validly nominated candidates. This point must be clearly put on record.
Practical Arrangements for the Second CE Election
As a matter of fact, the Second CE Election was not only constitutionally and legally sound, but was also highly transparent. In order to ensure that the election was conducted in an open, honest and fair manner, the entire electoral process was supervised by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC). To complement the provisions in the CE Election Ordinance, EAC made a number of subsidiary legislation, including the regulation on electoral procedure, to regulate activities relating to the CE election. These subsidiary legislation were also scrutinized and passed by the LegCo. The EAC also promulgated a set of guidelines to explain the electoral arrangements. Furthermore, the EAC appointed, pursuant to the CE Election Ordinance, Mr Justice PANG Kin-kee as the RO of the Second CE Election. During the election, the EAC fulfilled its duties in accordance with the law. All electoral arrangements and procedures were in compliance with the Basic Law, the CE Election Ordinance and other relevant electoral laws.
The CPG formally announced on 4 March the appointment of Mr Tung Chee Hwa as the second term CE. The CPG likewise remarked that the arrangements and procedures for selecting the second term CE designate were in compliance with the Basic Law and relevant electoral provisions. The process, which was open, honest and fair, was generally accepted by the community.
Public Participation in the Election Process
With respect to public participation in the election process, the motion moved by the Honourable Emily Lau also criticizes that channels were lacking for the general public to participate in the Second CE Election. Firstly, I must point out that the EC responsible for electing the second term CE designate is formed in accordance with Annex I of the Basic Law, and is broadly representative of different sectors of the community. Members of the EC come from four sectors, namely, the industrial, commercial and financial sectors, the professions, the labour, social services, religious and other sectors, as well as Members of the LegCo, representatives of district-based organisations, Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC), and representatives of Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. These four sectors are further sub-divided into 38 subsectors, 35 of which have their members returned by election. The remaining three subsectors are the LegCo, the NPC and the religious subsectors. The first two are composed of all incumbent LegCo Members and Hong Kong deputies to the NPC, who are ex-officio members of the EC. The religious subsector has its representatives returned by nomination.
As seen from its composition, the EC is composed of representatives from various sectors, representing the interests of different strata of the community.
Consultation on Political Reform
Now, I would like to respond to Members' comments on the consultation work on political reform. As we all know, the Basic Law has laid down a 10 years' blueprint for the development of HKSAR's political system after 1997. It has also provided for a mechanism that allows the HKSAR to decide its future direction and process of political development after 2007. The development of the future political system of Hong Kong must accord with the principle of gradual and orderly progress as stated in the Basic Law, and must also be acceptable to all sectors of the community. In the long run, we should develop for ourselves a political system that best suits Hong Kong's interests.
As regards the method for the selection of future CEs, as I have mentioned just now, Article 45 of the Basic Law has set out the ultimate aim of selecting the CE by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. The pace of moving towards this ultimate aim, however, must be determined by the HKSAR according to the principle of gradual and orderly progress.
The main emphasis of the amendment proposed by the Honourable Frederick Fung Kin-kee is that the CE should be elected by universal suffrage as soon as possible. As I have said just now, the Basic Law has already stipulated that the ultimate aim is the selection of the CE by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. It has also provided for a mechanism to amend the method for selecting the CEs for the terms subsequent to the year 2007. In the course of achieving this aim, we must adhere to the principle of gradual and orderly progress as laid down in the Basic Law. This is not only an express requirement of the Basic Law, but is also one of the favourable conditions for the political development of the SAR. For the time being, questions as to when the CE should be elected by universal suffrage and how such an election should be conducted, remain subjects to be discussed by various sectors of our community. We hope that consensus can be reached on these issues. To decide at this point of time that we should elect the CE by universal suffrage as soon as possible is, I think, premature.
Lastly, I would like to point out that, when asked to name problems facing Hong Kong that needed to be solved in the telephone opinion surveys regularly conducted by the Home Affairs Bureau, only very few respondents, under 1% on average, mentioned issues relating to the political system. As some Members have mentioned just now, the respondents were most concerned about problems relating to labour, the economy, education and housing. In addition, a recent telephone opinion survey jointly conducted by the Radio Television Hong Kong and the Lingnan University found that nearly 80% of the respondents thought the Government should give priority to tackling economic problems. Next on the priority list were education and housing issues. Only 1.8% of the respondents considered the political issue worthy of priority treatment by the Government. In view of the foregoing, I believe that a review of the political system is not the most pressing task facing the Government at the moment. According to the schedule set out in the Basic Law, we have ample time for the task. We are confident that we can complete the task properly. We will bear in mind that public consultation is of utmost importance in the entire process of political review. In this regard, preparations must be made. When we are ready and the time is appropriate, we will allow sufficient time to conduct extensive consultations involving all sectors of the community so that a consensus on the direction of political development can be reached.
Thank you, President.
End/Thursday, March 14, 2002.