Hong Kong legal experts call for cross-party talks on 2017 political reform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 8:54am

Two legal experts called for communication across the political spectrum to achieve universal suffrage in 2017, with Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee warning that failure to do so could mean decades of political stagnation.

Alan Hoo, chairman of the Basic Law Institute, suggested the pan-democratic camp engage in "dialogue" to reach consensus - instead of insisting on their contentious "public nomination" idea, under which all registered voters would be able to put forth candidates.

Chen and Hoo were speaking at a forum hosted by Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah yesterday - one day after he returned from an official visit to Beijing with the Bar Association and weeks after he proposed enlarging the nomination committee that will put forward candidates for the election by including all district councillors.

Tong had said that he still supported public nomination, but with the city polarised on the idea, he wanted to find some middle ground.

While the speakers at yesterday's forum - including University of Hong Kong legal faculty dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun and former executive councillor Allen Lee Peng-fei - disagreed on public nomination, most believed that more discussion was needed on reform.

Chen said: "I am no longer optimistic about the prospects of the 'one country, two systems' framework, mainly because the city's politics is highly polarised, and we seem to lack the ability to solve the question about universal suffrage in 2017 through rational negotiations.

"If the [upcoming] political reform fails, Hong Kong's political system could be marching on the spot till 2047."

The framework was guaranteed for 50 years from 1997.

Lee criticised lawmakers for having "done too little to [work together] and too much on opposing [each other]."

He said it was tragic that the biggest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was still studying reform proposals and not tabling suggestions.

To encourage dialogue, Dr Chan Kin-man, an organiser of the Occupy Central campaign, suggested that Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing should convene a joint conference among political parties to discuss reform.

Chan said that while the government had announced that a public consultation would be launched next month, he worried that the controversy over the issuing of free-to-air television licences would further damage the government's credibility, so much so that "the people or political groups would boycott the consultation process".

After the forum, Tong said that while in Beijing, officials - whom he declined to identify - reacted positively to his proposal and did not condemn it as contravening the Basic Law. He hoped to host more seminars to discuss political reform with student groups, think tanks and political parties.

Speaking on a separate occasion, National People's Congress standing committee member Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai said Tong's proposal "matches the Basic Law's framework, but the details still need to be discussed."