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Hong Kong constitutional system matures the day Chief Executive elected by universal suffrage

Enabling Hong Kong's constitutional system to grow to maturity would involve not just the electoral systems, but would also need political talent and the progressive evolution of governance traditions to complement the process, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, said today (April 4).

"The day the Chief Executive is returned by universal suffrage, Hong Kong's constitutional system will attain maturity. By that time, we will witness the convergence of the development of our electoral systems, political talent and governance traditions.

"By that time, prior to the election the Chief Executive candidates will have to win public support by providing a full account of their political team and policy agenda. After a candidate has won the election, his or her political team will have to shoulder collectively the responsibility of implementing the electoral manifesto," he said.

Mr Lam's comments were made in a speech he delivered at a seminar on the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the Basic Law and 17th anniversary of the of the promulgation of the Basic Law jointly organised by the Constitutional Affairs Bureau and the Joint Committee for the Promotion of the Basic Law of Hong Kong.

He said that on constitutional development the HKSAR Government would publish a Green Paper; as for the grooming of political talent, the Government hoped that two layers of politically appointed deputy directors of bureau and assistants to directors of bureau would be created; on establishing a set of traditions on governance, the recent Chief Executive election had already provided a prototype.

"Even though the Chief Executive is currently returned by indirect election, the candidates had put forth relatively comprehensive platforms to inform the public of their electoral promises.

"The candidates were also engaged in open debates on television to give people a clear understanding of their political platforms," Mr Lam said.

He said that in the last 30 years, at different stages people had continued to raise questions about Hong Kong from various perspectives.

For example, in 1978, some asked if China would revert to her previous practices; in 1984, some queried whether the Sino-British Joint Declaration would be honoured; in 1997, some were concerned whether Hong Kong would continue to succeed; and in 2007, people asked whether universal suffrage would be attained.

"During the past 30 years, basically we have been addressing one question : 'How can we ensure that Hong Kong’s success will be sustained?'

"Time has proved that Hong Kong is fully capable of continuing to create success.

"If we could resolve an historical and constitutional issue as weighty as the Reunification in 1997, likewise the issue of universal suffrage will naturally be resolved when the conditions are ripe," he said.

Looking back on the 10 years since Reunification, Mr Lam said that Hong Kong people had overcome three challenges and established three milestones.

Firstly, the Basic Law had facilitated Hong Kong's economic restructuring. During the 13 years prior to the Reunification, the Government had invested considerable effort and time to ensure a smooth transition. At that time, Mr Lam was conscious of the fact that Hong Kong had not made sufficient preparations on policies relating to the social, economic and livelihood fields.

The unexpected Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 had resulted in six years of economic recession. Fortunately, under the framework of Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the Mainland (CEPA), Hong Kong’s economy could complement that of the Mainland; CEPA provided a firm foundation and platform for Hong Kong to move out of adversity and resume growth.

Secondly, he said, the Basic Law had bestowed on Hong Kong new room for development. The Basic Law had retained Hong Kong's membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). As a special administrative region, Hong Kong could enter into a free trade arrangement with the Mainland after China had joined the WTO. This had promoted the recovery and restructuring of Hong Kong’s economy.

Mr Lam said that the new room for development conferred by the Basic Law was not confined solely to the economy. For example, last year, Mrs Margaret Chan, with her identity as a Chinese national and a Hong Kong professional, was elected as the World Health Organisation Director-General.

Thirdly, in the 10 years since Reunification, in accordance with the Basic Law, the HKSAR Government had made Hong Kong more democratic. Previously, governors were appointed by the British Government. Hong Kong people did not have a role to play, he said.

"In the third term Chief Executive election held recently, Mr Donald Tsang obtained the support of more than 80% of Election Committee members. The outcome of the election coincided with the results of opinion polls conducted by various universities. This demonstrates that the Election Committee has wide representation. Committee members can fully reflect the views of the community," he said.

In regard to the Legislative Council (Legco), the proportion of directly elected seats had increased from one-third in the first term Legco to 50% in the third term Legco.

Mr Lam said that during the administration of the second term HKSAR Government, the Constitutional Affairs Bureau put forth a package of proposals in 2005 to further democratise Hong Kong's electoral system through incorporating all District Council members into the Election Committee to enhance the democratic elements in the 2007 Chief Executive election and through enabling District Council members to elect amongst themselves more representatives to the Legco to enhance the representativeness of the 2008 Legco.

"Even though we did not obtain two-thirds majority support in Legco for the 2007-08 package, the HKSAR Government was firmly committed to achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law.

"Since the establishment of the Commission on Strategic Development in 2005, we have been discussing continuously substantive options for universal suffrage and have started exploring the issues relating to the roadmap and timetable.

"After the third term HKSAR Government has been established in July, we shall publish a green paper on constitutional development. This will form the basis for promoting public consultation on the issue of universal suffrage. We shall strive to work together to find a set of answers to this issue for Hong Kong," Mr Lam said.

Ends/Wednesday, April 4, 2007