Assembly should go after the handover
In the next two days a sub-group of the Preparatory Committee will meet in Beijing to finalise its proposals on how to form the first legislative council of the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
The proposals will be submitted to the Preparatory Committee for approval later this month.
Last week, however, Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa flew to Beijing and suggested to Vice-Premier Qian Qichen that instead of the Preparatory Committee, the SAR government should have the final say on the electoral arrangements for the first legislature.
Mr Tung is also a deputy chairman of the Preparatory Committee and Mr Qian the chairman.
The Preparatory Committee was formed in accordance with a decision by the Chinese National People's Congress in 1990. The ruling, which defined the powers and functions of the Preparatory Committee, said it should 'prescribe the specific method for forming the first government and the first legislative council [of the SAR]'.
Many members of the Preparatory Committee have always understood this to mean that the committee is charged with making the rules for the legislative council elections due to take place next year. It should take decisions on matters like how the various constituencies are to be defined and what kind of voting system is to be used.
It has been suggested that as the Preparatory Committee is responsible for the formation of the first legislature, its work will not be completed until the elections have been held.
Mr Tung apparently thinks otherwise. He told the press he would prefer the Preparatory Committee to couch its decision on the elections in very broad terms, providing a range of options for the SAR government to choose from after consulting the public.
While Mr Tung's suggestion may be seen by some as not entirely in line with the Preparatory Committee's terms of reference prescribed by the National People's Congress, it will probably be supported by many others.
When the congress considered the preparatory work for the SAR in 1990, there was a general consensus that there would be a 'through-train' for the legislature across the handover. Everybody believed the first SAR legislature should be in place as soon as the new government was established.
The specific method for forming the first legislature, therefore, had to be decided before the handover. The Preparatory Committee was seen as the most appropriate institution to make those decisions. No one suspected it would be a controversial or complicated process.
When adopting the resolution in 1990, the congress could hardly foresee any necessity for the Preparatory Committee to continue its work after the establishment of the SAR.
Now we know there is no through-train and the election of the first SAR legislature cannot be held until some months after the transfer of government. With the SAR government coming into operation, would it still be appropriate for the Preparatory Committee, consisting partly of mainland members, to make decisions for SAR elections? There has been word that the Chinese Government is considering dissolving the Preparatory Committee when the SAR is set up, so that the principle of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong' will be seen to be realised.
Mr Tung revealed, after his talks with Mr Qian, that the fate of the Preparatory Committee would be settled at its next meeting.
After all, the Preparatory Committee was formed for the purpose of preparing the establishment of the SAR. It should consider its job done when that takes place.