Hong Kong Basic Law

Poll ‘primary’ was my idea and not Beijing's, says Rita Fan

Veteran politician says she has no idea how Beijing views 2017 election, after media storm about possible screening of chief executive candidates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 March, 2013, 9:05am

A veteran Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress says her suggestion that a "primary" be held to select candidates for the next chief executive race is only her personal opinion and does not represent Beijing's view.

Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, who is expected to be elected as a member of the NPC's Standing Committee today, said her idea was aimed at shortlisting hopefuls for the vote in 2017 - the first time Hong Kong's leader will be chosen by universal suffrage - rather than stopping pan-democrats or anyone unacceptable to the central government from entering the race. "Some people may have the impression that the system is aimed at [ousting pan-democrats], but it is not what I mean," she said.

Article 45 of the Basic Law calls for a "broadly representative" nominating committee to forward chief executive candidates for a popular vote in line with "democratic procedures".

Fan said the "democratic procedures" could involve "a voting process" among committee members or "a primary".

Speaking at a gathering of journalists in Beijing yesterday, she said: "I think a primary could be one of the many options, but it is not an authoritative interpretation [of the article] … I have no idea what Beijing is thinking, and I haven't talked to them."

Fan said the primary could ensure there would not be "too many candidates", which may confuse voters and hinder candidates from elaborating on their election platforms in televised forums. But she declined to say what would be an appropriate number of candidates.

Fan also refused to comment on whether a public consultation on the election should be launched in October, as suggested on Tuesday by former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen.

A media storm over whether a screening mechanism should be set up erupted on Sunday when Ming Pao Daily quoted "an authoritative person close to the central government" as saying such a mechanism was needed to bar candidates not acceptable to Beijing from running in the 2017 chief executive election. This fuelled speculation that the person was representing the views of the central government or testing the waters for such a move.

Fan declined to confirm if she was the person quoted by Ming Pao, but admitted hosting an off-the-record media gathering on Saturday.

"I made it clear that what I was going to say must not be used for reporting, so I won't disclose what I had said during the lunch," Fan said.

"When I read the news report [on Sunday], I thought 'that could not be me' because there are things that I had not said and the term [an authoritative person] doesn't fit me either, because … I really have no idea what the central government is thinking."

On Sunday, the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, said no concrete plans were in place for the 2017 election and the government had yet to start its "five step" consultation.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that the government would start the consultation at a "suitable time".

Fan suggested her outspoken style could lose her some support. "If I am re-elected [to the Standing Committee] with far fewer votes in favour of me, and more votes against me, it will be worth some self-evaluation."