Seats offer fails to convince democrats

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am

Pan-democrats are being wooed by the government to support its constitutional reform proposal with an offer to scrap appointed seats in the district councils, a day after saying there was no room for compromise.

But the offer has received lukewarm response, despite fresh suggestions that a top Beijing official may visit Hong Kong to meet lawmakers over the negotiating table.

In an RTHK phone-in programme yesterday, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said the government was prepared to consider scrapping the 102 appointed district council seats if some pan-democrats pledged votes to back its reform proposal.

'If some people among the opposition who have sufficient votes will come forward and say, 'look, if you can promise scrapping appointed district councillors and we will support your [reform proposal]', we can consider it,' Tang said. The government needs four defectors from the pan-democrats to fulfil the Basic Law's requirement of a two-thirds majority in passing the reform proposal.

Tang also said the government would be prepared to consider making technical adjustments to how district councillors are elected to join the Election Committee - in effect guaranteeing more seats for pan-democrats in the electoral college that will select the next chief executive in 2012.

This came after he faced a barrage of criticism from callers, who accused the government of lacking sincerity in introducing universal suffrage - as shown by its reform proposal unveiled on Wednesday, which was little changed from the first draft five months ago. Under the proposal, five new seats in the legislature would be given to district councillors, while the Election Committee would be enlarged to 1,200 members to select the chief executive in 2012.

But on the issue of appointed district councillors, the government said only that it would consider scrapping the seats through local legislation after the reform proposal was passed.

In an apparent overture to pan-democrats, National People's Congress deputy Wong Kwok-kin said Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary general of the NPC Standing Committee, might visit Hong Kong to discuss the reform matter with lawmakers. This was if pan-democrats reacted positively towards comments Qiao made on Wednesday reiterating that universal suffrage may, rather than shall, be introduced as early as 2017 and that Hong Kong held the key to reaching consensus.

Democrat Cheung Man-kwong said Tang's move was 'clearly an act' to woo defectors among moderate pan-democrats, but his party, which has long called for negotiation with the government, would not budge unless the introduction of genuine universal suffrage could be assured. 'Can four people claim to represent the general public? Passing the reform proposal with marginal votes will only create more public anger,' Cheung said.

Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, who is considered a target of lobbying by the government, said he would not support the reform proposal if scrapping appointed district councillors was the only concession.

A member of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, the group of moderate democrats negotiating with the government, said it may consider backing the reform proposal if the new district council seats were nominated by district councillors and returned by direct elections.