The next chief executive will be chosen by the 800-member committee that picked six legislators in September, the Government announced yesterday. The decision could open the chief executive poll, due in 2002, to legal challenge because the Government had kept the public in the dark about the Election Committee's functions, critics said. The Basic Law says the chief executive will be chosen by an election committee. But the Government had, until yesterday, refused to say whether that committee would be the same as the one set up in July to choose six legislators. Confirmation came in a paper on the Chief Executive Election Bill, sent to the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel for discussion on Monday. 'In accordance with Annexe I to the Basic Law, the chief executive shall be elected by an Election Committee,' read the paper from the Constitutional Affairs Bureau. 'This Election Committee is one and the same as the Election Committee which has been formed in July 2000 to elect six members to the second-term Legislative Council.' The bureau said the committee would, as stated in the Basic Law, have a term of five years. It suggested Tung Chee-hwa name the election date six months before his term expired in July 2002. The bureau also proposed that the election be monitored by the Electoral Affairs Commission headed by Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing. By-elections would be required to replace committee members who died, resigned or ceased to be eligible. Pro-Beijing figures make up the majority of the 800 committee members, picked on July 10. They include tycoons, politicians, executive councillors, and Mr Tung's brother, Tung Chee-chen. Tycoon Li Ka-shing and staff from his firms have at least 10 seats. There are a small number of pro-democracy members. Emily Lau Wai-hing of the Frontier said it was 'ridiculous' that the Government had clarified the committee's function six months after it was set up. 'It's just laughable. They're making a mess for themselves,' she said. Ms Lau said the delayed decision might cause people to suspect that Mr Tung had waited until he had seen the make-up of the committee and how it behaved before deciding whether to approve its second function. Ms Lau warned of the danger of possible legal challenges. 'There may be people who will say they didn't stand for the Election Committee because they were not told they could choose the chief executive. It may be very troublesome,' she said. Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong welcomed the decision as in line with the Basic Law, but described the delay as strange. 'Why did the Government not let candidates know they have such a responsibility [to choose the chief executive] when they stood for the Election Committee elections?' he asked. But Howard Young of the Liberal Party said many committee members were prepared for the job when they ran for election. Committee member Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, a Democrat, denied the committee would now be able to exercise undue influence over candidates for chief executive. 'In many elections, candidates are well aware who their voters are before the polls. We can't bar candidates from contacting voters. What we have to do is to prevent any possible corruption,' he said.