Press Releases

SCA outlines political development in Hong Kong

The Government is working vigorously to encourage Hong Kong residents to exercise their political rights through voting in the series of elections over the next few years, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Michael Suen, said today (May 24).

Speaking at a luncheon organised by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in association with the Asian Business Consortium of the University of Toronto/York University/Queen's University/Richard Ivey School of Business in Toronto, Mr Suen said that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government would intensify its campaigns to encourage people to vote in the lead up to the September poll for the Legislative Council (LegCo).

Rather than pushing for development of the political system at a much faster pace than the time table stipulated in the Basic Law, Mr Suen said it would be more productive for the advocates to use their energy and skills to broaden the political horizon and visions of the community, to prepare them for the period that runs up to 2007, and in particular to encourage more people to exercise their political rights through voting in the series of elections over the next few years.

"Prior to 1985, we did not have elections of any kind to the LegCo - all the seats were either filled by government officials or by appointment. And it was not until 1995 - just five years ago - that we finally saw the demise of the appointed seats in the LegCo.

"We are just starting to build up a tradition of participating in public affairs through elections.

"Nevertheless, I think we have made a reasonable start. In the 1995 elections, the voter turnout rate was some 36 per cent. But, barely 10 months after reunification, in the elections to the first legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in May 1998, we had a record voter turnout of 53 per cent.

"It was unprecedented in Hong Kong's electoral history. We were of course most encouraged by this result, but we would like to have seen an even higher turnout," Mr Suen said.

Mr Suen noted that the Basic Law provided for gradual and orderly progress in Hong Kong's democratisation process. The relevant provisions in the Basic Law were very clear.

"In a pluralistic society like Hong Kong, it should come as no surprise that concern has been expressed by some in the community that the pace at which we are progressing is too slow. Those who speak out on this issue do so, loudly and eloquently. But there are others who take the opposite view," he added.

Opinion surveys conducted over the past few years show that the people's main concern is naturally about their own economic well-being, particularly in the aftermath of the Asian economic turmoil. The question of speeding up the pace of democratisation has not figured high amongst their concerns.

"The Basic Law lays down a road map for Hong Kong's democratic development. The timetable, spanning a 10-year period from reunification, is specifically written into the constitution," he said.

The number of directly elected seats in the legislature will increase from the current one-third, to 40 per cent, or 24, in the forthcoming LegCo election this September. By the year 2004, half of the 60 seats in the legislature will be directly elected with the other half being elected through functional constituencies.

Beyond 2007, the people of Hong Kong can decide on their own how quickly to move towards universal suffrage which is the ultimate aim as provided for in the Basic Law.

On the long term political development of Hong Kong, Mr Suen pointed out that eventually the legislature would be wholly returned by universal suffrage.

"The question of how it is to be formed cannot be considered in isolation," he said, adding that we needed to consider that question in the wider picture of the governance of Hong Kong as a whole.

"Under the Basic Law, we have an executive-led government which is not formed by a majority party of by a coalition of parties. As a matter of fact, it is not formed by any party at all," he said.

The Chief Executive, elected by an election committee, does not belong to any political party and the Hong Kong government does not have a single vote at its command in the legislature. Senior officials are all civil servants and not political appointees.

"We have to consider very carefully how progression to electing the legislature by universal suffrage will impact on the effective governance of Hong Kong by a government with no vote in the legislature and led by a Chief Executive who do not belong to any political party," he said.

"Given this rather unique and unprecedented political structure, this will be a challenge of the highest order," Mr Suen added.

"I have no doubt that the long term goal of the community of Hong Kong is to have a stable political structure providing a constructive and workable relationship between our executive-led government and a legislature elected through universal suffrage. Many stakeholders are involved. The administration will be expected to take a lead in coming up with alternative proposals.

"In this exercise, the views across the political spectrum of the man-in-the-street, the political parties, the media, academia and the professionals will have to be carefully canvassed."

"We need time to get more voters to participate in the electorate process. We need time to prepare them for taking the important decision, " Mr Suen said.

"The Government will need time for informed debate, for analysis of different views, for working out options, for mapping out the way forward and ultimately, for building a consensus.

"This is a very complex process, putting the resilience of our community under test, yet again," he said.

Earlier in his speech, Mr Suen briefed participants on a wide range of issues in Hong Kong including the implementation of "One Country, Two Systems", rule of law and the relationship between Mainland China and the HKSAR.

End/Wednesday, May 24, 2000