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Government's response to remarks by Hon Emily Lau: CE first to initiate universal suffrage discussion

Commenting on the remarks made by the Hon Emily Lau on universal suffrage in her "Letter to Hong Kong" broadcast on RTHK today (April 22), a Constitutional Affairs Bureau spokesman said that both the Central Authorities and the HKSAR Government were fully committed to achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage as enshrined in the Basic Law. It was the Chief Executive (CE), Mr Donald Tsang, who had initiated, for the first time in Hong Kong, wide-ranging and substantive discussions about universal suffrage by establishing the Commission on Strategic Development (the Commission) in November 2005.

He also said that Ms Lau's proposal that no nominating committee should be set up when implementing universal suffrage for CE was not consistent with the Basic Law.

During his election campaign, the CE had already made it clear that he would endeavour to take forward discussions within the community on the issue of implementing universal suffrage, with a view to coming up with a solution within his new term.

He said, "The CE has undertaken to publish a green paper on constitutional development in mid-2007, after the third term HKSAR Government has been formed in July, to consult the public on the options, roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage."

The spokesman said that, in the past 18 months, the HKSAR Government had been exploring, through discussion at both the Commission and the Legislative Council (LegCo), the issue of possible models for implementing universal suffrage for the CE and LegCo.

"Progress has indeed been made. Most of the LegCo Members and members of the Commission now agree that when implementing universal suffrage for the CE, a nominating committee should be set up in accordance with the Basic Law.

"However, there are still significant differences on models for forming LegCo by universal suffrage, particularly on how the functional constituencies should evolve. We will continue to handle this issue actively," he said.

He added that, to attain universal suffrage, the community must achieve consensus on the specific model for implementing universal suffrage.

"The Commission agrees that the concept of universal suffrage should include the principles of universal and equal suffrage.

"At the same time, the Commission has also come to the conclusion that, in implementing universal suffrage, we should comply with the following four principles:

First, addressing the interests of different sectors of society;

Second, facilitating the development of the capitalist economy;

Third, gradual and orderly progress; and

Fourth, meeting the actual situation in the HKSAR.

"At this stage, we have not drawn any conclusions on the model for implementing universal suffrage, and have not rejected any proposal. All proposals received from political parties, different organisations and individuals will be covered by the Green Paper.

"However, any option put forth for discussion by the community should be consistent with the Basic Law, and should not require any amendments to the main provisions of the Basic Law.

"Ms Lau's proposal that no nominating committee should be set up when implementing universal suffrage for the CE would not be consistent with the Basic Law, and would not be practicable.

"Nonetheless, we note that Ms Lau has recently indicated support for the proposal put forth by 21 LegCo Members, which acknowledges that a nominating committee would need to be formed when implementing universal suffrage for the CE. We hope that she has now accepted that any universal suffrage option must be consistent with the Basic Law," he said.

The spokesman added that the HKSAR Government also hoped that any universal suffrage options would attract majority support among Hong Kong people, and would stand a reasonable chance of securing two-thirds majority in LegCo and being considered seriously by the Central Authorities.

"These criteria are by no means new, but simply reflect the requirements of the Basic Law.

"For changes to be made at constitutional level to the two electoral arrangements, the Basic Law requires the support by a two-thirds majority of LegCo Members, the CE and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Thus, the Central Authorities have the constitutional power to oversee and to approve changes to Hong Kong's electoral systems," he said.

He said that the HKSAR Government would consult the public widely on the Green Paper and would listen to the views of LegCo Members, individuals from different sectors and strata, as well as district personalities.

"Following the end of the three-month public consultation period, we will summarise the views of the community and assess whether there is a foundation for us to come up with a set of mainstream views for taking forward the work to the next phase.

"To form a mainstream view within the community, different political parties, organisations and individuals must build on common ground and accommodate mutual differences, and must be willing to consider the proposals of other people seriously with an open mind, so as to secure consensus for implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong. We will submit a report to the Central Authorities reflecting faithfully any mainstream views formed and other views expressed." the spokesman said.

Ends/Sunday, April 22, 2007