LCQ5: Universal suffrage is ultimate aim
Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 26):
The arrangement whereby a certain number of members of the Legislature are now returned by functional constituencies has been adopted for nearly 20 years since 1985/86. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has assessed the merits and demerits of the above arrangement in regard to the social and constitutional development of Hong Kong; if so, of the assessment results; if not, the reasons for that; and
(b) given that Article 68 of the Basic Law provides that the ultimate aim in respect of the method for forming the Legislative Council is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, whether it has assessed if the adoption of the arrangement whereby a certain number of members of the Legislative Council are returned by functional constituencies for a long period of time constitutes a violation of such a provision; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the timetable for abolishment of such an election method and what specific measures will be adopted in this regard; if the assessment result is in the negative, the reasons for that?
Regarding the first part of the question, since the Legislative Council (LegCo) held its first election in 1985, functional constituencies (FCs) have been part of Hong Kong's electoral system. Before 1985, all Members were appointed to the LegCo, many of whom were drawn from various sectors of the community. Accordingly, when elections were introduced to LegCo in 1985, the Government decided then that different sectors should be allowed to continue to contribute to the community through FCs in LegCo.
After reunification, the LegCo has retained the FC seats in order to address the interests of different sectors of society, with a view to realising the principle of balanced participation.
Balanced participation is one of the basic principles, which is also espoused by developed democratic societies in other parts of the world. Different societies would achieve this aim through different means. For example, some would adopt the model of an Upper House or a Senate in a bicameral legislature to achieve balanced participation, while others would do so through political parties that could represent the interests of different strata and sectors.
FCs have brought into LegCo the voices of the commercial and industrial sector, the professional sector, trade unions and other sectors. Elected representatives of these sectors can also make use of their professional knowledge to contribute to the work of the LegCo, enriching the deliberations of the Council in terms of diversity and coverage. The existing arrangement whereby the LegCo is composed of members from the geographical constituencies and the FCs can ensure that the work and deliberations of the LegCo can meet the interests of members of the public as well as those of different sectors.
Regarding the second part of the question, Article 68 of the Basic Law (BL) prescribes that our ultimate aim is to elect all LegCo Members by universal suffrage. The provision also provides that we should attain this aim in the light of Hong Kong's actual situation and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. Aside from the above, BL68 does not stipulate any further requirements on the pace or form in moving towards universal suffrage.
Geographical direct elections through "one-man-one-vote" represent a form of universal suffrage. Other forms of "one-man-one-vote" elections, including indirect elections, which meet the electoral principles of "universal" and "equal" suffrage and can cater for the needs of Hong Kong, can also be possible models of universal suffrage.
Amongst the opinions collected by the Constitutional Development Task Force during the last round of consultation, there were views which suggested that members of the public can return representatives of the relevant industries by "one-man-one-vote", after the organisations in the FCs had nominated a certain number of candidates. There were also suggestions that consideration should be given to adopting a bicameral model to retain the voices of FCs in the legislature.
The issue as to whether the FCs should be retained should only be decided after careful consideration and thorough public debate. As universal suffrage would not be implemented in the 2008 LegCo election, there is no need for us to form a view on the issue at this stage. Our present priority is to deal with the two electoral methods for 2007 and 2008.
Ends/Wednesday, January 26, 2005