Consultation kicks off on political reform
Carrie Lam: ‘Self-evident’ that CE candidates must love country and HK
The idea that candidates in future Chief Executive elections — to be conducted under universal suff rage — must “love the country and Hong Kong” was self-evident, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor said on Wednesday while launching a five-month public consultation on electoral reform.
The HKSAR was ready for universal suffrage in the 2017 Chief Executive Election, Lam said as she presented the consultation paper on the long-awaited process to the Legislative Council.
The stipulation that a Chief Executive candidate must love the country and Hong Kong was not in the 57-page consultation document was because it was self- evident under the Basic Law, she said.
From the very first article of the Basic Law, stating that Hong Kong was an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China, to Article 43, which provides that the city’s chief be accountable to the central government, Lam said there were already plenty of references to such a requirement.
“It is obvious that the CE has to be a person who loves the country, loves Hong Kong and does not oppose the central government. So, we think the debate on ‘love the country, love Hong Kong’ is unnecessary because it is thoroughly reflected in the spirit of the Basic Law,” she said.
However, Lam said different views would still be welcome. She added that there was no question of screening patriotic contenders through legal provisions or procedures. The government is confident that the electorate, including members of the nominating committee, can choose the right leader.
Following a decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee ( NPCSC) in 2007, the 2017 election will be the first in Hong Kong’s history to choose its leader through universal suff rage. This is the ultimate goal stated in Article 45 of the Basic Law.
The article also provides that nominees in the election be chosen by “a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”. The NPCSC decided that it should be formed “with reference to” that of the electoral committee.
Lam, quoting NPCSC Deputy Secretary- General Li Fei, said formation of the two committees would share a high degree of similarity. The consultation paper states, however, that there will be “appropriate room for adjustment”.
Wide- ranging options are also offered on expanding the voter base and “democratic procedures” for the nominating committee, as well as voting arrangements to elect the CE. The consultation paper also looks for solutions in the unlikely event the elected leader fails to secure appointment by Beijing.
Local legislation requires the SAR’s chief to give up any political party membership before taking office. This particular question, though addressed in the paper, will only be dealt with later. This is because it does not involve constitutional requirements.
The consultation paper provides no single answer to any question. Lam explained that the government is reluctant to reject any ideas at present. When appropriate, however, the government will identify what proposals are considered to have defied legal premises.
Asked whether candidates could enter the race by petition of a certain portion of the electorate — a proposal advocated by the opposition — Lam said the nominating committee is the only institution empowered to select candidates.
She said proposals not only must be practical and conform to legal requirements of the Basic Law and NPCSC decisions, but need to have a reasonable chance of winning the approval of two-thirds of the Legislative Council ( LegCo) members, the majority of the public, as well as the NPCSC.
The reform package will require the backing of at least five opposition legislators. Lam warned that if an impasse resulted, the society could face political and economic instability. If this happened no one would be winner, she stressed.
In spite of tough challenges ahead, the chief secretary was confident the community, which valued the rule of law, would overcome its differences.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said that while the 2017 election would be the first to implement the “ultimate goal” of universal suffrage, the electoral setup itself would not be fi nal. He said it would change with the times when necessary.
The consultation, due to end on May 4, 2014, is the first of five steps to overhaul the city’s electoral system. All views collected in the consultation will be compiled into a report. This will then be submitted to the NPCSC by the current CE.
If the NPCSC agrees to revise the election methods, the SAR government will table a concrete reform package to the LegCo. It requires the support of two- thirds of all lawmakers and the CE before the package is submitted to the NPCSC for final approval.
The local legislature will still have to amend laws in accordance to the plan approved by the NPCSC.
Tam said the public opinion report was expected to reach the NPCSC by July next year. A final proposal would again invite public views in the second half of next year. While it was too early to tell how long the second consultation would take, he hoped to finish it before the end of 2014.
At LegCo, political parties have made plans to engage in the landmark consultation. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress for Hong Kong and New People Party will seek public views and develop their own proposals.
A panel at LegCo will host public hearings in January for the consultation, while members of the LegCo were also invited to dinners hosted by the chief secretary. Four dates in January are open for lawmakers to sign up.
Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks as Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen looks on at a press conference on the “Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive in 2017 and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2016” on Wednesday.