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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:09am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Electoral reform in Hong Kong must be based on proper understanding of its context

Carrie Lam says there is a need for a common appreciation of the historical, constitutional, legal and political context of Hong Kong's electoral reform, so as to enable compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 3:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 4:03am

The task force on constitutional development, which I headed, has submitted its consultation report to the chief executive, who has just made a report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, inviting it to decide whether the methods for selecting the chief executive in 2017 and for forming the Legislative Council in 2016 should be amended. This is the first step which has formally kick-started the "five-step process" of constitutional development.

During the consultation, we appealed to the people of Hong Kong to have a dialogue with us and highlighted the clear basis for introducing universal suffrage. The people are indeed eagerly looking forward to selecting the chief executive by "one person, one vote" in 2017. However, the community is divided over certain issues.

As we stand at the crossroads, it is worthwhile revisiting a few important perspectives with a view to reaching a consensus and finding a way forward.

First, the historical perspective. The aim of selecting the chief executive and forming Legco by universal suffrage was first set out in the Basic Law promulgated in 1990, not the Sino-British Joint Declaration. At that time, the legislature had yet to have in place geographical direct elections, but the Basic Law promulgated by the NPC had already incorporated the aim of selecting the chief executive and electing all Legco members by universal suffrage.

As for the timetable of selecting the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017, it was set by the NPC Standing Committee in 2007. Without the Basic Law and the Standing Committee's decision, we would not have any foundation to discuss the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017.

Second, the constitutional perspective. The state established the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region pursuant to Article 31 of the constitution. Article 2 of the Basic Law says that the NPC authorises the HKSAR to exercise a high degree of autonomy and enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law.

Article 12 provides that the HKSAR shall be a local administrative region which shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under the central government. Being a local administrative region, as opposed to an independent polity, the design and development of Hong Kong's political structure must follow the requirements prescribed by the NPC. The central authorities play a clear and significant role in amending the methods for selecting the chief executive and forming the legislature. It is provided in the Basic Law that the chief executive selected by universal suffrage shall be appointed by the central government. The chief executive is also required to implement the directives issued by the central government in respect of the relevant matters provided for in the Basic Law.

Accordingly, the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage not only concerns the people of Hong Kong, but is also an important state business, in terms of the relationship between the central and local authorities.

Third, the legal perspective. Article 45 of the Basic Law provides that the chief executive shall be selected by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Throughout the consultation period, we have been stressing that discussion on constitutional development should be based on the Basic Law. We have also quoted in the consultation report that there are views which consider that any proposal bypassing or undermining the powers of the nominating committee to nominate candidates is highly unlikely to conform with the Basic Law.

Laws, especially those of a constitutional nature like the Basic Law, which have been formulated through reasonable legislative processes, should never be freely interpreted or lightly abandoned. If the proposal put forward by the government for consideration by the community and Legco is contrary to the law, our constitutional reform will go down the wrong path and stand a slim chance of success.

Fourth, the political perspective. The most difficult step in the "five-step process" is to get the proposal passed by a two-thirds majority of all Legco members, which means that it must receive cross-party support to some extent and political parties must make compromises.

I understand that the political atmosphere in the community is tense at present. After the consultation, there are still a considerable number of people expressing their different opinions on constitutional development proposals. These opinions should be respected by both the government and legislators.

Real politics should work for the long-term and overall interests of the community. A consensus on realising the goal of universal suffrage is not unattainable if we bear the common good in mind, move a step further, and try to resolve the differences or even stop insisting on some of one's own views. In my opinion, serving the common good is the true purpose of politics, and is also the perspective through which our community should consider constitutional reform. Last but not least, constitutional development should not be viewed solely from a historical perspective. We should also look forward. Some people regard the universal suffrage system of 2017 as the final stage of constitutional development, making parties further polarised to hold onto their views about the arrangement.

My personal view is that the relevant system could be further refined after the implementation of universal suffrage. Implementing universal suffrage in 2017 is our first step. This will allow more than five million eligible voters to elect the chief executive through "one person, one vote". Once in place, the arrangement will form an integral component of the SAR's constitutional system, which will not turn back but only forge ahead.

The first step in the "five-step process" of constitutional development will bring us closer to the goal of selecting the chief executive by universal suffrage. After the Standing Committee makes a decision on whether there is a need to amend the method for selecting the chief executive, the Hong Kong government will carry out a consultation on the specific proposals around the end of this year.

I again call on the people of Hong Kong to continue the discussion in a rational and pragmatic manner, narrow the differences and reach a consensus on constitutional reform. By so doing, we will be able to achieve universal suffrage in 2017, and more than five million eligible voters in Hong Kong will have the chance to cast their votes for the next chief executive.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is Hong Kong's chief secretary


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This article is now closed to comments

First, from a historical perspective, after 100+ years of British rule in a relatively free and open society, both the British and Chinese governments did not have the simple decency in asking the opinions of HK citizens, especially for those who don't have the resources to immigrate to other countries. The Basic Law was rammed down the throats of unwilling citizens.
Therefore, from both constitutional and legal perspectives, the current HK government has a moral obligation to fight for the rights of HK citizens to a fair and democratic election.
From a political perspective, HK is currently divided into two camps - the younger generation with more education plus those older folks who benefited from the British colonial government on the one side; and the pro-Beijing crowds and new immigrants on the other. This is a toxic mix.
What HK needs is a leader who can unite the two camps. The DAB's North Korean-style electoral reform will not produce a truly representative leader, but only a "Dear Leader". An electoral reform that ensures a pro-Beijing CE will be a disaster as these two camps will be further divided. The new CE will then have the legitimacy to fully integrate HK into China and HK's core values will disintegrate in no time. The civic society of HK as we once know will come to an end.
The main task in my opinion is how can HK maintain a high degree of autonomy while China is catching up democratizing itself, and not the other way around.
Thanks Carrie, you say discussion, but your actions seems like you need hearing aids...
sipsip, we all need to start listening to one another.
as a HK PR but carrying a swiss passport i am always amazed how so called Hong Kong democrats get so psyched up about "loving your country". HK is a chinese city and hence part of china. why can these "democrats" not accept that they are part of China a country who after 100+ years has given them political rights and saved their well being through a number of ugly global and regional crisis since 1997? how can you expect the CEO of HK NOT love his country?
@ carrie lam - as usual a well written balanced lay out of the issues. IF ONLY the pandemocrats could try to use their wits and brain instead of noise and civil disobedience threats when entering this discussion!!
Your appeal in the scmp today to the people of Hong Kong gives me an opportunity to voice my opinion directly to you on both the 2017 Chief Executive and 2016 Legislative Council elections.
I consider myself a mainstream voter and not aligned to any political party or radical movement. I believe there are many like myself who have yet to make their voices heard and want an electoral reform package that truly reflects the wishes of HK people.
For election of the next CE, here are my proposals:
Candidates must swear allegiance to Hong Kong SAR. They may not necessarily love China but must be willing to work with the Central Government in a constructive way.
The nomination committee for choosing CE candidates must be truly representative of all the seven million people in Hong Kong. This must then be followed by a one man one vote election by the Hong Kong electorate.
For the Legislative Council elections in 2016, here are my proposals:
Get rid of all the 35 FC seats as they do not reflect the true wishes of the public and increase the GC seats to 70. The 70 legislators must be directly elected by the people.
If not possible by 2016, then decrease FC from 35 to 20 and increase GC from 35 to 60, making a new total of 80 seats. This change will increase the percentage of directly elected seats in Legco from 50% to 75%. In 2020, all seats should be directly elected.
Finally, the government must take a more pro-active role to represent the people of HK.
Ms. Lam, every bit of your editorial is very clear and stringent according to the basic law. The only fuzzy phrase is "broadly representative" in reference to the nomination committee. This is the crux of the whole issue w/r/t the fears of a pre-rigged election and people not truly being represented. It also fits within the prescription of the basic law to discuss reform of the nomination committee to ease peoples' minds AND stay within the rule of law. I don't know much, but it seems like this is a very diplomatic way to go about things...
It is nice to point out that the term "universal suffrage" was introduced in the Basic Law to carry out the Sino-British Joint Declaration requirement that the Chief Executive be chosen by elections or consultations held locally. But this does not mean the entire Basic Law is an invention of the Central Authorities to be applied as they wish. Honesty would require pointing out that the 12 principles the Central Government takes credit for in the White Paper are actually the 12 articles of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and that the 12th article stipulates the content of the Basic Law to include those 12 articles and Annex I of the Joint Declaration. That this is an internationally binding obligation is the basis for public confidence in it. Respect for the rule of law therefore does not leave China free to interpret all of these constitutional requirements as it pleases. That the ICCPR is incorporated in the Basic Law (Article 39) further emphasizes that its interpretative content should comply with international standards. This insistence on compliance with the Basic Law, if it is to be taken seriously, must therefore take account of the meaning of the terms contained therein. The Government has little credibility to call for upholding the Basic Law when it freely ignores the reasonable meaning of the promises contained therein by advancing a democratic model that would deny the voters a free choice and a legal model that offers no constraint on the government itself.


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