UK minister refuses to be drawn into debate on suffrage with pan-democrats

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 February, 2008, 12:00am

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday disappointed pan-democrats who bemoaned a missed opportunity when he refused to publicly define universal suffrage.

Pan-democrats are concerned that despite Beijing's apparent promise to allow universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017, and for the Legislative Council in 2020, the final election models will grant greater nominating or voting rights to vested interests and therefore fall short of real democracy.

Mr Miliband, on a five-day trip to China, refused to answer definitively when asked whether a system in which the business sector has priority in nominating candidates for top positions complied with principles of universal suffrage. He said he wanted to 'avoid glib definitions of democratic accountability and also avoid hubristic definitions'.

'The simplest definition is that the people choose their own government,' he said. 'I think we'll recognise when we see it, whether this is a system where the people do decide on their government, and the accountability of the government to the people is clear.'

The government issued a paper on Friday for discussion in its top political reform advisory body about the possibility of increasing seats for the business community in the Election Committee in 2012. It has also argued that functional constituencies can be made compatible with universal suffrage if the voting system is altered.

Democratic Party lawmaker Martin Lee Chu-ming and Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who attended a meeting between lawmakers and Mr Miliband, said he should have stated clearly what elements should not exist in a democratic system. However, they said they understood the constraints he was under and hoped he would take a firmer stance behind closed doors.

A British consulate spokesman said Mr Miliband told lawmakers 'to build consensus to reach the promised goal of universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020.'

Mr Miliband also met Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen for private discussions.

The minister will also visit Chongqing , Shanghai and Beijing.