If Hong Kong fails to agree on a reform package for the 2017 chief executive election, there is no guarantee Beijing will allow universal suffrage in future, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor insisted yesterday.
Lam was speaking after a breakfast meeting between lawmakers and representatives of Beijing's liaison office yesterday, at which she and central government officials cast doubt on future attempts to implement a one-person, one-vote system if the current reform effort failed.
"The objective fact is that we can elect the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017. If we fail to achieve the goal for 2017, it is difficult to say when we would obtain another timetable for universal suffrage," said Lam, leader of the government consultation on reform.
She dismissed a claim by Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki, one of the 13 legislators at the meeting, that she and liaison office legal chief Dr Liu Xinkui were "scaremongering" when they suggested that the idea of universal suffrage could be scrapped.
She cited a decision by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which in 2007 named 2017 as the year when the city could elect its leader by one person, one vote.
The Standing Committee said universal suffrage for the chief executive election "may be implemented" in 2017, Lam argued, but had not "elaborated on the electoral methods for the chief executive elections after 2017".
Kwok said Lam and Li had used scare tactics at the meeting in an attempt "to force Hong Kong people to pass an unacceptable electoral plan".
Lam called Kwok's comments "untrue and unexpected".
The government is expected to put forward a reform plan later this year, and must win a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council, meaning some pan-democrats must support it. Disagreements remain, however, especially over how candidates will be nominated.
An official who attended the breakfast meeting quoted Lam as saying that were an attempt at reform to fail: "The future government would possibly face greater ruling issues and a more fragmented legislature, which makes reaching a consensus more difficult. If we fail for 2017, is it possible to succeed in the future?"
The official said Lam was interpreting the Standing Committee's decision "from legal and political perspectives".
However, an expert on the Basic Law said the ruling could be interpreted in a different way.
"The decision says 2017 is the earliest time when Hong Kong can implement universal suffrage. It naturally follows that universal suffrage can happen after 2017," said Alan Hoo SC, chairman of think tank the Basic Law Institute.
Executive Council member Cheng Yiu-tong also rejected suggestions the city would be given no more chances to implement universal suffrage.
"The central government officials would not - and would not dare - say something like this," Cheng said. But he agreed further reform efforts would be pointless if Beijing loyalists failed to secure two-thirds of Legco seats in 2016.
"It would only repeat the discussion and waste time and resources," he said.
The NPC delegate said Beijing had always wanted the chief executive poll in 2017 to be "100 per cent safe".
"They want the election to bring stability to the society - not to lead to internal fighting between two groups," he said.