Financial Secretary John Tsang calls for compromise on electoral reform

Financial secretary says city's economic future will be damaged unless compromises are made on 2016 Legco and 2017 chief executive elections

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 8:45am

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah has urged lawmakers to agree on a compromise over the terms for electoral reform or risk damaging the city's economic future.

In a rare foray beyond his finance portfolio, Tsang said achieving universal suffrage by 2017 was vital to Hong Kong's political stability. International firms have also cited stability as key to doing business here.

"I always believe the relatively extreme opinions … are only … bargaining tactics in the reform's negotiation, where different parties would still be willing to make reasonable compromises eventually for the sake of Hong Kong's democratic progress," Tsang wrote on his blog yesterday.

But he said doubts were growing that extreme positions were not being used as starting points for bargaining.

"They have instead already determined to stand firm or even been prepared to spoil [reform efforts]," Tsang wrote.

Tsang's comments echoed constitutional expert and Basic Law Committee member Johnny Mok Shiu-luen SC, who wrote in the South China Morning Post that Beijing would likely back any compromise reached between pan-democrats and pro-Beijing groups to agree a formula acceptable to all sides for the 2017 chief executive elections.

Reforms to determine how the 2016 Legislative Council and 2017 chief executive polls would take place must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Legco, implying the government must secure the support of at least five pan-democrats in addition to all pro-Beijing legislators.

A key sticking point is over a pan-democrat demand to allow public nominations for chief executive hopefuls, which Beijing loyalists say is unconstitutional.

Tsang criticised democracy campaigners for not focusing on substantive issues of reform.

Emily Lau Wai-hing, Democratic Party chairwoman, told the Post it was the government's responsibility to do better on political reform and that the stalemate had harmed the city's economy.

Hong Kong remains a vital gateway for money and business in and out of the mainland and Beijing relies heavily on the city's financial markets as the main medium through which state-backed and private sector firms raise money from international equity and bond investors.

More goods pass in and out of China through Hong Kong's ports as a proportion of the total than any other gateway, with two-way trade between the city and the mainland valued at US$401 billion last year, according to China Customs Administration Data.

Analysts say Beijing requires stability in Hong Kong during the mainland's long-delayed programme of economic reform.