Beijing to keep 2017 hopes alive
NPC Standing Committee to decide on pace of HK democracy; positive signal expected
Beijing will leave open the option of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 when it decides on Hong Kong's pace of democracy next week, according to sources close to Beijing.
Five days after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen submitted his report on constitutional reform to the central government, leaders of the National People's Congress Standing Committee yesterday decided to put it on the agenda for the week-long committee meeting to begin on Sunday.
Sources said the Standing Committee was likely to approve changes in methods for electing the chief executive and legislature in 2012, but would rule out universal suffrage for 2012 on the grounds that it was not in line with the Basic Law principle of gradual and orderly progress.
But the committee was expected to leave open the possibility of universal suffrage for the chief executive election as early as 2017, they said.
In the report submitted last Wednesday, Mr Tsang said people's aspirations for electing the chief executive in 2012 should be taken seriously and given consideration, although 2017 would stand a better chance of being accepted by the majority.
An executive councillor, who did not want to be named, believed the central government would express the view that there was 'room' for Hong Kong to attain 'one man, one vote' for the chief executive election in 2017 but not promise it.
Sources said that after making a decision on universal suffrage in 2012, officials from the committee's Legislative Affairs Commission would next month explain its stance to Hong Kong representatives.
The Hong Kong government would later table a proposal for the 2012 elections that would be modelled on the package for the 2007-08 elections it put forward in 2005. The legislature will vote on the 2012 package before the summer recess.
Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen welcomed the Standing Committee's decision to include the report on its agenda. But he would not speculate on the meeting's outcome.
'We await the decision of the Standing Committee,' he said yesterday when pressed by lawmakers on the next step during a Legislative Council constitutional affairs panel meeting on the government report.
Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu believed the authorities wanted to resolve the matter quickly.
At the Legco meeting, lawmakers from the pan-democrat camp criticised the government for conveying a wrong impression that Beijing would promise universal suffrage in 2017 if people gave up the 2012 target.
'The government is trying to confuse the people. The report is just confined to changes in 2012 and yet you try to fool the people that 2017 is a possible option,' said the Democratic Party's Cheung Man-kwong.
Anson Chan Fang On-sang also pressed Mr Tang to clarify if universal suffrage in 2012 remained possible.
Mr Tang said 2012 had not been ruled out, but stressed that the report merely reflected public aspirations.
He would not comment on whether the electoral package rejected by Legco in 2005 would be revived.
Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung said the chief executive had to take into account the 'actual situation' and had therefore given his assessment on the 2017 option.
The panel passed a non-binding motion calling for another meeting with Mr Tang before the Standing Committee convenes.
Lau Nai-keung, a member of the Basic Law Committee under the NPC Standing Committee, said the committee was likely to state that it respected the majority view in Hong Kong that the election of chief executive by universal suffrage by no later than 2017 would stand a better chance of being accepted by the majority in the city.
'By expressing its views in such a subtle manner, the Hong Kong people should know the central government's views clearly,' Mr Lau said.