Carrie Lam's remarks spur call for honesty on reform

Chief secretary tries to justify her choice of words at weekend seminar – seen by some as a bid to curtail discussion of public nomination

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 10:24am

Academics have asked the Hong Kong and central governments to show sincerity on universal suffrage, after the chief secretary appeared to close the door on public views to do with nomination.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Saturday described views voiced by Basic Law experts at a seminar as having "set a definitive tone" on political reform. Lam, who is in charge of a five-month consultation to gather views on the electoral overhaul, used a Chinese idiom that has led to speculation she was trying to curtail the discussion on political reform.

But yesterday she made clear that this was not her intention. "If pan-democratic lawmakers have overanalysed my comments, I can clarify that we are still genuine and sincere in our consultation," Lam said.

The consultation on methods for electing the chief executive in 2017 ends on May 3.

As part of the exercise, more than 300 officials, lawmakers and leaders attended a seminar on Saturday in which Rao Geping - a Peking University law professor and Basic Law Committee member - explicitly ruled out any idea that would allow voters to put forward candidates. The proposals included those submitted by pan-democrats and a watered-down version suggested by Rao's committee colleague, legal scholar Albert Chen Hung-yee.

Defending her comments yesterday, Lam said another committee member, barrister-at-law Johnny Mok SC, also told the seminar that the nominating committee had "substantial power" to propose candidates. "I was summarising the speeches of several speakers, that they had a similar take on the nominating committee's power under Article 45 of the Basic Law," she said.

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing backed up Lam: "[All she meant was] the speakers' views were very clear."

But a core organiser of the Occupy Central democracy campaign said he was not convinced by the explanation. Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man said: "I think the speakers did not have the authority or status to set a 'definitive tone'.

"The government must show its sincerity and tell Hongkongers they will be able to vote in a truly contested election," Chan said, adding that public nomination had been raised as a means of easing fears that dissenting voices would be screened out by a nominating committee.

His colleague, the university's political scientist Ma Ngok, said: "The consultation is supposed to hear from Hongkongers ... Now someone from Beijing has said something, and you are saying [he] has set a definitive tone. How can … Hongkongers have confidence in the consultation?"

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said he would not meet officials in Shanghai next month if Lam did not clarify her remarks.