Trade-based seats are still in transition, minister says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 May, 2010, 12:00am

The secretary for justice said yesterday he felt there was no reason to depart from the stance that functional constituencies were merely 'transitional arrangements' on the way to universal suffrage, in what appeared to be the administration's first public affirmation of this principle.

At a constitutional reform forum attended by academics, lawmakers, officials, and the business community, Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan asked Wong Yan-lung whether the government had withdrawn from its stance that functional constituencies were transitional, as previously expressed.

Ho cited a government report made in 1999 to the United Nations, under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Hong Kong, in which the government - dismissing international criticism that functional constituencies discriminated against voters - stated these seats 'are transitional' because the ultimate aim 'is the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage'.

Wong replied: 'I see no reason to withdraw from what was already written there. But I don't feel that is indicative of a conflict with ... the current government stance.'

Wong said the government had always maintained there was still time to debate the nature and future of functional constituencies in the context of functional constituencies.

After the forum, Ho said he believed Wong had effectively reaffirmed the principle that functional constituencies were merely transitional. 'The only logical inference, is that if they are only transitional then they must be abolished when we implement universal suffrage,' Ho said.

Last month Ho posed the same question to the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Stephen Lam Sui-lung, who managed to avoid denying or confirming the government still maintained that position.

Pan-democrats and many in the legal community maintain that the Basic Law only envisioned functional constituencies to be merely transitional arrangements to prepare for direct elections of all lawmakers under universal suffrage.

However, this government has since been non-committal about the future of trade-based seats, while the business community does not believe they have to be abolished.

Wong stressed again yesterday that the government was committed to the electoral model complying with principles of universal and equal suffrage - but that it was only authorised to propose reforms for the 2012 elections, which will not be conducted by universal suffrage.

Any elaboration of the definition of 'universal and equal' would affect the reform discussions conducted by the next administration, he said.

Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who was at the forum, said he also believed this was the first public affirmation of this stance.

'I suspect that this government does believe that functional constituencies are merely transitional. But they don't dare say they must be abolished. Why is it they don't dare say this publicly? Is it because that would not be in line with Beijing's view? This is what is most worrying,' Tong said.

Both Tong and Ho are part of the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, which has indicated it will vote down a reform proposal unless it is given clear assurances functional constituencies will be abolished.

In his speech, Wong urged pan-democrats to support the proposal.

'The 2012 political reform may not be what everyone considers to be a large step ... but whether in your eyes this is a large or small step, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction towards universal suffrage.'

He said accepting the package would not create barriers against abolishing functional constituencies.

'On the contrary, because the next administration would then have a greater consensus, with greater democratic elements, they will be able to involve even more people, under more conducive circumstances, to resolve the issues.'