Hong Kong must accept basic realities to achieve universal suffrage in 2017

Carrie Lam says without an acceptance of the political realities and a return to the legal framework of the Basic Law, universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 may well remain an unfulfilled dream

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 3:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 3:18am

We are now halfway through the five-month consultation on constitutional development. The three members of the task force have pressed on with gathering the views of different sectors. In the feedback received so far, a number of commonly held views are notable.

First, it is the common aspiration of Hong Kong people to see the timely implementation of universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive through "one person, one vote" in 2017. Nobody wants a stalemate in constitutional development.

Second, subscribing to the rule of law as a core value of Hong Kong, the public generally agrees that constitutional development must proceed in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant interpretation and decisions of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Third, many people agree that the chief executive must be someone who loves both our country and Hong Kong. The requirements of the Basic Law make this clear, to ensure that the person will faithfully exercise the constitutional powers and discharge the duties associated with this important position.

Fourth, given the Basic Law's stipulation that the chief executive shall be selected by universal suffrage upon nomination by a nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures, the community should conduct serious discussions about the composition of this committee, the nominating procedures, the number of candidates to be nominated, and so on.

At present, the major difference in public opinion lies in the nominating procedures. Quite a number of people consider that candidates should be nominated solely by the nominating committee as required by the Basic Law. Some bodies, however, have suggested alternative proposals such as "civic nomination", "nomination by political parties" and "three-track nomination". There are also views suggesting there should be no "screening", but without clearly defining or explaining what "screening" means. The views of political parties and political organisations at this time are rather polarised. Many are reiterations of their stance or slogan-type statements, lacking substantive supporting arguments or giving little consideration to the principles and provisions relating to the political structure as stipulated in the Basic Law.

I am genuinely concerned that if people retain their own stance, refusing to return to the legal framework of the Basic Law or accept the political reality, universal suffrage for the 2017 election will become nothing but a castle in the air. And once again, our democratic process will reach an impasse.

The task force has been emphasising that, when we discuss the method for selecting the chief executive by universal suffrage, we should consider thoroughly the feasibility of the proposals from legal, political and operational perspectives simultaneously. On the legal side, the secretary for justice has already shared his legal viewpoint on whether the proposals of "civic nomination" and "nomination by political parties" are consistent with Article 45 of the Basic Law.

I wish to share my views from a political perspective. Any proposal for implementing universal suffrage must be in strict compliance with the four major principles on constitutional development under the Basic Law, namely meeting the interests of different sectors of society, facilitating the development of the capitalist economy, providing gradual and orderly progress, and being appropriate to the actual situation in Hong Kong. For example, the Basic Law says that the composition of the nominating committee must be "broadly representative" so as to realise the principle of "meeting the interests of different sectors of society" with regard to the design of the political structure. From this, a nominating committee modelled on the framework of the broadly representative four-sector Election Committee currently in place will stand a better chance of being accepted in both the legal and political context.

As for the nomination procedures, Article 45 clearly states that the power to nominate candidates is vested in the nominating committee. Any proposal bypassing the committee or undermining its substantive nomination power will not be acceptable in the realm of law. In fact, the Legislative Council, the chief executive, the Hong Kong government and the Standing Committee are all required to act according to law.

On the political side, any proposal that is legally controversial is unlikely to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Legco and obtain the consent of the chief executive and the approval of the Standing Committee. At this juncture of the consultation, we should have practical discussions based on the provisions of the Basic Law, instead of wasting time and effort in making proposals over which a consensus is hard to achieve. This is the right way to implement universal suffrage for the chief executive election.

In light of the prevailing situation, the outlook for the successful implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election is not very bright, though the prospect is not yet completely bleak. I firmly believe that the wider community supports achieving the goal of universal suffrage for 2017 according to law. I also believe most political parties do not want to see a failure to attain the goal. Implementing universal suffrage for the 2017 election is a big step forward along our road to democracy. This is not only a solemn commitment of the central authorities to Hong Kong, but also the aspiration shared by seven million Hong Kong people.

With just over two months to go before the end of the consultation, the task force has a duty to give timely advice. I would like to urge all sectors of the community to initiate more constructive discussions, in particular, more comprehensive and thorough deliberations on specific issues such as the composition of the nominating committee, the nomination procedures and the electoral methods, so as to identify a proposal for universal suffrage that complies with the Basic Law and best meets the actual situation of Hong Kong. We must not let this opportunity slip away.

It is my earnest hope that all parties across the political spectrum will bear Hong Kong's long-term interests in mind, apply their political wisdom and seek a consensus through open and rational communication with people of different views. Only through this would our five million eligible voters have a chance to elect the next chief executive in 2017 and celebrate the important milestone in the democratic development of Hong Kong.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is chief secretary