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Response to US Report on Human Rights: statement ungrounded and untrue

In response to media enquiries, a Constitutional Affairs Bureau spokesman responded today (March 7) to comments in the US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006 relating to Hong Kong's constitutional development.

The spokesman said that it was the Basic Law that prescribed for the first time in Hong Kong's history universal suffrage as the ultimate aim for Hong Kong's constitutional development.

"Both the Central Authorities and the HKSAR Government are fully committed to promoting constitutional development in accordance with the Basic Law, with a view to achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage," he said.

"The proposed package for the electoral methods for 2007-08 put forth by the HKSAR Government in 2005 would have greatly enhanced the democratic elements in the electoral methods for election of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council (Legco), and brought significant progress to Hong Kong's constitutional development through incorporating District Council members in the Election Committee and enabling them to elect more representatives to Legco. The Government also undertook that, if the package was endorsed by the Legco, changes would be implemented to phase out appointed District Council seats.

"The package had the support of the majority in the community, as well as the support of more than half of all Legco Members. Regrettably, Legco Members of the opposition camp vetoed the package, and thus prevented Hong Kong's electoral systems from making progress," he said.

The spokesman further stated that the Government was fully aware of the public's aspirations for universal suffrage, and that was why, in November, 2005, the Chief Executive initiated discussions on formulating a roadmap for universal suffrage through the Commission on Strategic Development.

He added that the commission was now having substantive discussion on possible models for implementing universal suffrage for selecting the Chief Executive and for forming the Legislative Council.

"The Basic Law provides that the responsibility of nominating Chief Executive candidates should rest with a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

"The US State Department alleges that 'the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs proposed that a 1600-strong Nominating Committee could be set up to vet future Chief Executive candidates to ensure they were acceptable to Beijing'. This statement is simply ungrounded and untrue as the HKSAR Government has not made any proposals on the specific models for implementing universal suffrage. Possible models are still being discussed by the Commission," he said.

The spokesman said that the Government would summarise the discussions of the commission and produce a report, which would be submitted to the Central Authorities.

"We hope that foreign governments will continue to respect the principle that Hong Kong's electoral arrangements are part of our internal affairs and are to be determined in accordance with the Basic Law," he said.

Regarding interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), the spokesman emphasised that, in accordance with the Constitution and the Basic Law, the power to interpret the Basic Law was vested in the NPCSC.

"The NPCSC's power to interpret the Basic Law is in general and unqualified terms. This principle is fully acknowledged and respected in Hong Kong and by its courts.

"The exercise of that power by the NPCSC, therefore, has not, and could not have, in any way affected the independence of the Judiciary, the rule of law or Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy," he said.

On the relationship between the executive authorities and the legislature, the spokesman said that the political structure in Hong Kong was an executive-led system headed by the Chief Executive.

"The respective powers and responsibilities of the executive authorities and the legislature are clearly prescribed in the Basic Law. The relationship between the executive authorities and the legislature is one of mutual regulation and co-ordination," he said.

The spokesman added that bills and budgets put forth by the Government had to be passed by Legco before they could be implemented.

"Clearly, we have a system in place that allows all government policies and legislative proposals to be widely, openly and frankly discussed in Hong Kong, and for the Government to make adjustments when necessary based on the input of legislators and other elements of society.

"It is HKSARG's consistent position that Article 74 of the Basic Law applies to legislative proposals introduced by Legco Members by way of Committee Stage Amendments to Government Bills, as well as to the introduction of Members' Bills," he said.

Ends/Wednesday, March 7, 2007