Legal quirk opens door to two elections in 15 days

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 April, 2005, 12:00am

Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of creating a legal mess that could see two chief executives elected, for different terms, within 15 days of each other.

Officials conceded that such an outcome - although highly unlikely - could actually occur, and was in keeping with the law, however irrational it might seem.

The accusation came as a Legco committee yesterday resumed scrutiny of a controversial amendment that seeks to have the new chief executive serve the remainder of Tung Chee-hwa's term rather than a new five-year term.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, of the Article 45 Concern Group, warned that the amendment was inconsistent with other provisions. She was referring to the legal requirement to elect a successor if the serving chief executive died 200 days ahead of his term's expiry on June 30, 2007.

The amendment requires a successor to be elected within 120 days of a vacancy arising, leaving only 80 days to serve in office.

But the Basic Law requires a new leader to serve a full five-year term, and for his or her successor to be elected 95 days before the term expires on June 30.

As unlikely as this scenario may be, it would lead to two chief executives being elected, 15 days apart. 'It would be a very awkward situation to have two elections 15 days apart,' Ms Eu said.

She said such a possibility would not have arisen had the government adhered to its original view that terms to be served by chief executives would always be five years.

'The government is introducing a new concept without considering the consequential amendments. Legislative enactment is not like eating instant noodles,' Ms Eu said.

Democratic Party lawmaker Martin Lee Chu-ming lamented that the secretary for justice had changed her mind on the length of the chief executive's term of office after consulting mainland legal experts.

'The Joint Declaration is being changed into one which reads: 'common law with Chinese characteristics shall apply to Hong Kong',' he said.

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung confirmed Ms Eu's suggestion that two elections could be held, one after another.

'But that's what the law requires us to do right now. You may find such an arrangement irrational. But you cannot demand that we follow the law on the one hand, but criticise it as irrational on the other hand.'

He said the question of whether a by-election should still be held if a vacancy arose near the final six months of a term should be dealt with in due course.