The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, attended a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation on February 8 to listen to the views of participants on the Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012. Following is Mr Lam’s speech:
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is always nice to come and pay a visit to the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation – the gatherings are warm, and the exchanges are stimulating.
I would begin by saying that we are now about 11 days away from the end of this three-month consultation period. By and large, we have made progress in arousing the interest of the community in this 2012 constitutional development package. We have also got a reasonable degree of support. According to opinion polls done by various universities, there are between 40 to 60 per cent of the public in support of the package of proposals in this consultation document being passed by the Legislative Council, and I am pleased to know that we have got two very eminent legislators here today. I will continue with my efforts in trying to secure support from among these two legislators and their colleagues in the months to come.
Also, we have been to 18 District Councils. All of them have passed motions in support of progress being made in 2012. Earlier today, before coming to attend the Democratic Foundation’s lunch, I received 1.13 million signatures from another alliance in support of progress being made for 2012.
So the sentiments are there, and the wish that Hong Kong can move forward is there. Looking back on developments in the last few years, and looking further back on developments since the 1980s, I think we have got a reasonable foundation for democratic progress to be made in 2012.
For today, I would just like to emphasise five points. Firstly, it is clear that both Beijing and the Hong Kong Government would like progress to be made. Now, seated around today’s luncheon gathering are friends who have been in Hong Kong since the 1980s, and those of you who have been around for the last quarter of a century will know that back in 1982 to 1984, negotiated on the future of Hong Kong, Britain and China agreed on the Joint Declaration, and in that document there were only two very simple provisions: We got to have elections – the Legislative Council shall be formed by elections, and the Chief Executive shall be returned through local consultations on elections – no mention of universal suffrage. The ultimate aim of universal suffrage was incorporated into our Basic Law – our mini-constitution in 1990. This decision was taken by Beijing, on their own, in response to Hong Kong opinions expressed between 1985 and 1990 when consultations on the Basic Law were conducted in Hong Kong. So, two milestones: 1984 – provisions for elections to begin; and 1990 – ultimate aim of universal suffrage.
Thereafter, Hong Kong continues to debate on the pace, the timetable, and the form of electoral reforms. In 2007, after three months’ public consultation on universal suffrage, implementation thereof, we, the third-term HKSAR Government, filed a report with Beijing. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress made a decision that in 2017, we may return the Chief Executive through universal suffrage, and thereafter, in 2020, we may also return all Members of the Legislative Council through universal suffrage. This timetable, the universal suffrage timetable milestone, was no small achievement. This is something which the third-term HKSAR Government has been able to secure. This is something which surpasses all the efforts made by previous terms of government. And because we now have a universal suffrage timetable, debates in the last few years – in the last two years or so – on democratic reforms have been more structured. There is now a clear timeframe and a very clear direction set for Hong Kong. That is actually very helpful to this debate about the pace and progress of democracy in Hong Kong.
The second point that I would like to emphasise is that, this decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 2007 is firm, is serious, is constitutional. About two months ago people asked us whether progress in 2012 is necessary for universal suffrage to be implemented in 2017 for the Chief Executive. Our response was very unequivocal. It is clear that there is no linkage in the decision made in December 2007 about universal suffrage timetable between progress made in 2012 and Chief Executive universal suffrage implementation in 2017. Of course, we would like progress to be made this time round. It would help Hong Kong gain more confidence and more experience in dealing with the cycle of constitutional debates and reforms. But if, heaven forbids, we stand still in 2012, we can still implement universal suffrage for the Chief Executive in 2017. All that Hong Kong needs to attain is consensus on the form and the method for universal suffrage election in 2017.
Actually, the decision made by the Standing Committee back in 2007 has an outcry of how universal suffrage for the Chief Executive is to be implemented. According to Article 45 of the Basic Law, we need to form a nomination committee, and the nomination committee may be formed with reference to the Election Committee. Thereafter, the nomination committee shall nominate a number of candidates. Once the candidates are nominated, all registered voters of Hong Kong shall return the Chief Executive through universal suffrage election, and that is “one man, one vote”.
So, the road ahead is actually pretty clear. Beijing has now made its constitutional position known, that in 2017 we can have universal suffrage for the Chief Executive, and all that Hong Kong needs to do is to come to a consensus on the methods for doing so. And that is why we are so keen to make progress in 2012. We want to form an Election Committee of no more than 1,200 people with four sectors – the commercial, professional, social services and political sectors – for participating in its foundation. And once we got these cross-sectors’ participation in the Election Committee, we hope that there will be a reasonably smooth transformation of this committee into the nomination committee for 2017. And if we are able to do so, then the only key issue remaining to be resolved before 2017 would be the democratic procedures for nominating the Chief Executive candidates: the nomination threshold, etc. It should be very do-able for us to focus on that particular issue between 2012 and 2017. Once we got the Chief Executive returned by universal suffrage in 2017, the issue will be under a lot of public expectations to roll forward further democracy in Hong Kong, and it will be up to him or her to come up with a set of proposals to get the Legislative Council returned by universal suffrage in 2020.
Even though the future of functional constituencies may look a very difficult issue today, even though there are still diverse views within this community on the future of these constituencies and how we get to universal suffrage for the Legislative Council in 2020, we just imagine, some time in 2016, the candidates who wish to vie for, to compete for the position of Chief Executive, will be casting and crafting their manifestoes, and they will all have to work very closely with the political parties and legislators returned in the 2016 Legislative Council Elections to make sure that once the candidates have completed their Chief Executive election, and once the successful candidate is in position, he or she will be able to have a reasonable chance of securing two-thirds majority in the legislature. So, the point is, this decision made in 2007 about universal suffrage timetable is real, is meaningful and is constitutional. Also, because we have this decision, this brings me to the third point.
Successive terms of the HKSAR Government and the Legislative Council will be under a great deal of public expectation – under a historic mission – to realise the aspirations of democracy on behalf of the Hong Kong community. It is terribly important that in the next few months, we try to narrow our differences and come up with a formula which will, on the one hand, secure majority support among Hong Kong society, and on the other hand, secure two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council.
Now, on our part, as the Hong Kong Government, we have tried our very best to come up with proposals and formulas within the parameters of the 2007 decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to make real, genuine and substantive democratic progress for 2012. For example, the decision of 2007 made by Beijing stipulates that for 2012, we have to keep a balance of 50/50 per cent between directly elected seats and functional seats. Notwithstanding this parameter, we have come up with a proposal to extend the number of seats from 60 to 70 in the legislature for 2012, and five additional seats to be given to geographical constituencies, and the other five to be restricted to elected District Councillors to return from among themselves. As a result, we will have 41 seats, or close to 60 per cent, of the Legislative Council returned through either geographical direct or indirect elections. To various political parties, this may not sound to be too much by way of progress. But it actually changes the composition of the legislature. It also gives us a firmer foundation on which to roll forward the democratic reforms in 2016 and 2020.
For those who wish to have an ultimate model for dealing with the universal suffrage model for the legislature, I have to say that so far as the third-term HKSAR Government is concerned, we are really trying our very best. Aside from coming up with this proposal which brings the composition of the legislature to 60 per cent direct and indirect geographical elections, we have also made it clear that so far as the Hong Kong Government is concerned, the model for universal suffrage Legislative Council elections shall have to comply with the principles of universality and equality. We have also gone so far as to say that, for the current form of the functional constituency elections, we believe they do not comply with these two principles. So the commonsensical thing to do is to take a step forward for 2012 and make further progress thereafter. This brings me to the fourth point.
I know that there are many political parties who hold different views about the way forward. I also know that the pan-democratic parties have reservations about our proposals for 2012. But supporting the package of proposals we have put forward now and supporting that progress be made this time round does not conflict with the wish of the pan-democratic parties to propose universal suffrage election models which they believe should be supported for 2017 and 2020 – there is no conflict between the two. And, as far as the Hong Kong Government is concerned, we have a very open mind, we are very ready to receive proposals from different political parties and groups on universal suffrage implementation for the future. We will diligently summarise and classify these proposals made, for reference by our successor governments in 2012 and 2017. So the views put forward today will have an impact for the future.
Finally, I would make one further conclusion. The progress that can be made for 2012 is not just for 2012. If we can make progress in extending the democratic foundations of the Legislative Council in 2012 for the Election Committee in that same year, this will bring us closer to universal suffrage for 2017. This will also demonstrate both to ourselves and to Beijing that we, as a community, are fully capable of making progress over difficult issues. Once we secure this consensus for 2012, we will be in a much better position to repeat this exercise and make further progress for 2017. Now that we have got this universal suffrage timetable, we must not allow this opportunity to elude and to escape from our hands. Even though developments in the last two or three months may not seem to be particularly encouraging – there are a few legislators who have taken their decision to resign, and the debates in the community have been sidetracked to some extent – I am encouraged by the results of the opinion polls. I am also encouraged by the results of the signature campaigns which have been undertaken. But at the end of the day, it is not just community support that we need; it is the Legislative Council’s support which is going to be critical.
Around the world, constitutional change is not easy to engineer. Two-thirds majority is a very normal constitutional hurdle. This is the second time round that we have tried to cross this hurdle. May success await us in the months ahead.
Thank you very much.
ENDS/Monday, February 8, 2010
SCMA attends luncheon on constitutional development (1)
The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, attended a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation this afternoon (February 8) to listen to the views of participants on the Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012.
SCMA attends luncheon on constitutional development (2)
Photo shows Mr Lam introducing the consultation document.