Democrats vow to fight Basic Law 'U-turn'
Klaudia Lee and Felix Chan
Decision to elect chief executive for two years will substantially weaken public confidence in leader, says legislator
Pro-democracy lawmakers predicted last night that Hong Kong would be engulfed in a legal tussle after accusing the government of adopting mainland legal concepts in ruling that the next chief executive would serve a two-year term rather than five years.
Both the Democratic Party and the Article 45 Concern Group said they would oppose any bill to amend the election law when it was introduced in Legco. One legislator said the decision would cast a shadow on the validity of the next chief executive
Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie said the Hong Kong government had adjusted its understanding of provisions in the Basic Law and that the person elected on July 10 would only see out the five-year term of Tung Chee-hwa.
Miss Leung admitted that when introducing the Chief Executive Election Bill in 2001, the government 'held the view that if a new CE was elected to fill a vacancy arising prematurely, his term of office should run afresh for a period of five years'.
This, she said, was based on Article 46 of the Basic Law, which states the 'term of office of the chief executive ... shall be five years'.
'At that time, the HK SAR government applied the common law rules of statutory interpretation and considered that, generally, clear and unambiguous provisions should be interpreted according to their literal meaning.'
But Miss Leung said she had exchanged views with mainland legal experts and their views were uniform: they believed the 'legislative intent' of the relevant provisions was that the chief executive should just serve the remaining years.
She said the terms of important offices on the mainland all run for five years.
'Where an office falls vacant prematurely, the successor will serve the remaining term of the outgoing office holder.'
She said the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress had stated clearly that the election of the chief executive for the third term was to be held in 2007 when interpreting the Basic Law last year.
Legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Article 45 Concern Group and a former chairman of the Bar Association, said Miss Leung's explanation showed the government had made a U-turn on its previous position.
Describing it as the biggest shockwave to hit Hong Kong since the handover, he predicted a legal tussle in the future.
'Hong Kong follows what is being laid down in the Basic Law. Mainland customs are not suited to Hong Kong. If it is suitable for Hong Kong, they should have written it in the Basic Law clearly,' he said.
'Today's decision not only substantially weakens people's confidence in the leadership of the next term but also casts a shadow on the validity of the next chief executive.'
Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, also a member of the concern group and a former chairwoman of the Bar Association, described the situation in Hong Kong now as 'one country, one system'.
But Maria Tam Wai-chu, a Basic Law drafter, said the next chief executive should serve two years as the Basic Law clearly stated the third term started in 2007.