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SCA speaks on scope for political participation in Hong Kong (English only)

Following is the transcript of the speech entitled, "Scope for Political Participation in Hong Kong", delivered by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, at the Joint Conference by the University of Hong Kong and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs held this (December 16) afternoon (English only):

Bryan (Curtis),

Thank you very much for the introduction, and thank you for organising today's seminar, so that we can all get together and deal with questions which are very close to our hearts: questions of elections, political participation and grooming of political talents.

I have decided to broaden today's address to cover, what I call, "Scope of Political Participation in Hong Kong". Because as so far I can see, the grooming of political talents does not depend solely on how we appoint our Secretaries and Under Secretaries. It actually depends on the whole of our constitutional arrangements.

To start off, I wish to place before you three myths which are commonly circulated in Hong Kong.

Myth No. 1 : The HKSAR Government does not want to provide much room for grooming political talent.

Myth No. 2 : The HKSAR Government does not want Hong Kong's political parties to grow.

Myth No. 3 : The HKSAR Government does not want to promote democracy.

I wish to take a few minutes to dispel all these myths by placing certain facts before our distinguished gathering today.

Fact No. 1 : There already is considerable room for political participation in Hong Kong, and the HKSAR Government wants to broaden the scope of political participation.

Today, we have a few friends from Australia and other overseas communities. In other open and democratic communities around the world, very often political careers straddle both the executive and the legislature. This can already be done in Hong Kong. I cite a few examples:

Example No. 1: Henry Tang. He was a member of the Liberal Party (LP), first elected to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 1991, got appointed to the Executive Council (ExCo) in 1997, and was first appointed in 2002 as Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology. At that time, he retained his membership of the LP.

Example No. 2: Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who is a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). He was first elected through the geographical constituency elections in 1998, was appointed to the ExCo in 2002.

Example No. 3: The guy on the stage, Dr Anthony Cheung, formerly a member of the Meeting Point and the Democratic Party, still helps to run the SynergyNet, a think tank, was elected to the LegCo in 1995 and was appointed to the ExCo in 2005.

I cite these examples to illustrate a few important points. Firstly, even under the present systems in Hong Kong, people who inspire to serving the public can already engage themselves both in the Legislature and in the Executive.

Secondly, the Government already embraces quite a broad political spectrum. Henry was a member of the LP; Jasper still is a member of DAB; and Anthony has a pan-democratic background.

Thirdly, the occupational interests which we embrace can be very wide. Henry has a business background; Jasper has a more grassroots background; and Anthony is an academic.

So the current system already allows different forms of political talents to rise through the system. But the Government does not want to stop there. We want to extend the scope for political participation, and we have just finished our four-month consultation period on our latest proposal to add two additional tiers of political appointments to our current system. At the moment, the Secretaries of the Government are appointed on five-year terms. These are political appointments. People like me will come and go with the Chief Executive (CE) who nominates us for appointments. But we have come to a view that in order for Hong Kong’s system to progress, we need to broaden the levels and layers of political appointments.

We have proposed that Hong Kong should have a total of three tiers of political appointments. The first tier will be what we have now: the Secretaries of the Government. The second tier will be the Under Secretaries; and the third tier will be political assistants to the Secretaries of the Government.

If we are able to implement this new scheme sometime in 2007, after the commencement of office of the Third Term CE, this will mean that both the Secretaries and the Under Secretaries of the Government can speak in the LegCo for the Government. This will eventually bring us closer to overseas jurisdictions like Canada and the United Kingdom, where two or three layers of ministers can speak for the Government in Parliament.

I also believe that if we are able to take this scheme forward, the Third Term CE would have to look for these talents from a variety of sources: the civil service, political parties, the business community, professional sectors, academics and other sectors. This is because at the present moment, Hong Kong's overall political system is still evolving. There is no one political party which commands an overriding majority in the Legislature or in the community. It is very necessary for the Government to draw political talents from a variety of sources. We will then be able to reflect more fully, and more completely, the views of the community in terms of policy formulation and in terms of overall governance.

With two further rungs added to the political ladder, this will enable young and budding political aspirants to pursue a broader political career. They can, say after graduation and having served a few years in the professional or business sectors or the academic world, decide either to stand for elections in the LegCo or District Councils (DCs), or if they are identified to have political talents, they can join the Government.

At this point, I wish to make one clarification. I notice that this morning Anson (Mrs Anson Chan), in making her statement, referred to local legislation requiring principal officials (i.e. Secretaries of the Government) to resign from political parties after taking up appointments. I wish to clarify that there is no such legislative provision. And that is why someone like Henry could retain his LP membership. In future, all members of the ExCo, the Secretaries of the Government, the Under Secretaries and political assistants can retain political party memberships. Whether they will do so individually is a matter of personal decision. Let me move on.

Fact No. 2 : The HKSAR Government considers that constitutional development and political party development go hand in hand.

We fully recognise that political parties are already part and parcel of Hong Kong's politics. Last year, in putting forth the constitutional package for 2007 and 2008, we actually made proposals which would have extended the possibilities for members of different political parties to take up a larger role, both in terms of the CE Election and the formation of the LegCo.

The most important feature of last year's package was to incorporate over 500 District Councillors into an expanded Election Committee for returning the Third Term CE. The proposals also embraced adding 10 seats to the LegCo, five of which would have been returned through direct geographical elections and five from amongst the District Councillors themselves.

This would have enabled younger members of different political parties to have, certainly, a more direct opportunity to present district interests in the election of the CE. It would also have enabled District Councillors, who belong to political parties, to stand for elections in the LegCo in 2008. It would have broadened the scope for political participation.

But unfortunately, we were not able to secure two-thirds majority support in the LegCo for this package. We missed this by a slender margin. But the intentions of the Government in putting forward this package were clear. We wanted the electoral systems to be opened up, so that political parties and District Councillors who would have been interested in taking a larger and more active role in both sets of elections could do so.

We did make some limited progress earlier this year. We were able to increase the number of directly elected seats for the 2007 DCs from 400 to 405.

Other measures which we are introducing include facilitating the participation of political parties in Hong Kong's elections through a financial subsidy scheme. We first introduced this scheme of $10 per vote in the 2004 LegCo Elections. All candidates who can secure more than 5% of votes in the elections will be eligible for this subsidy. We will be extending this scheme to the 2007 DC Elections.

We have also taken steps to allow the photographs and the emblems of political parties which support the candidates to be printed on ballot papers. This was first introduced in the 2004 LegCo Elections. We will be extending this scheme to the 2007 DC Elections.

Fact No. 3 : The HKSAR Government hopes to generate consensus on implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

For over one year, we have been discussing possible models for implementing universal suffrage for the CE and the LegCo in the Commission on Strategic Development. In parallel, we have been engaging the Constitutional Affairs Panel of the LegCo in these discussions.

We are now focused on some very specific issues. Firstly, how we can form a Nomination Committee according to the Basic Law which would be broadly representative of the Hong Kong community in nominating candidates to stand for the CE Election through one man one vote.

Secondly, how the current form of Functional Constituency elections in the LegCo should be replaced by universal suffrage.

It is very important that we are able to secure broad consensus both within the LegCo and among the Hong Kong community, for these questions to be resolved, and thereby making it possible for Hong Kong to implement universal suffrage according to the Basic Law.

We hope to draw some conclusions on these discussions within 2007. We will publish a report in Hong Kong. We will put that report to Beijing. We hope that the public and the LegCo can have more discussions about these issues. And we want this report and these discussions to provide a foundation for the Third Term CE to roll forward the democracy agenda in Hong Kong between 2007 and 2012.

Let me just draw some simple conclusions.

We believe that for political talents to blossom in Hong Kong, we need to open up both the hardware of the electoral systems and the software of political appointments.

To this end, the Government needs to further develop the system of political appointments and to generate consensus on implementation of universal suffrage.

Political parties need to broaden their memberships and networks in the community. Memberships, which range now from 200 to about 8,000, are still too tiny by international proportions. In Canada, last week the Liberal Party selected a new leader. They had 200,000 members who voted for several thousand delegates to choose their political party leader. But I have to say that despite the relatively small political party memberships, our political parties are quite effective. In the DC and the LegCo elections, they are able to secure more than one million votes. So I give them credit. But for the longer run, they need to broaden their memberships and networks. They also need to work together to secure consensus for Hong Kong in implementing universal suffrage.

And finally, for all those who are interested in serving the Hong Kong public, (I would say) make use of the opportunities available, take the plunge and engage in politics.

Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, December 16, 2006