Vice-Premier Qian Qichen has cautioned against any rapid moves towards a directly elected legislature or chief executive after 2007, when the Basic Law allows a review of the electoral system. Mr Qian made it clear in an interview with the South China Morning Post that he opposed any major changes to Hong Kong's system of government. 'The past practices have shown that the model based on functional constituency elections is an effective way to ensure that people in various walks of life can have balanced participation in political life,' he said. 'As a result this should be kept intact. Other systems that conform to Hong Kong's characteristics should also be retained.' The Basic Law allows the method of election to the legislature and the post of SAR chief executive to be changed with the backing of two-thirds of the members of the legislature and the consent of the chief executive. These changes have only to be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress; the central Government technically has no veto power. But Mr Qian's comments will be likely to undermine prospects of an acceleration towards a directly elected legislature and chief executive after 2007. He stressed that Hong Kong's political development could not be divorced from that of the mainland. 'Hong Kong is a commercial city and one of our country's special administrative regions. This determines that it cannot copy the political system of another country . . . In my view it should design its own path for development according to its actual conditions and gradually proceed.' Mr Qian added that he believed the 'SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong will make a wise judgment and choice on this important issue, which is concerned with Hong Kong's prosperity and long-term development'. The Vice-Premier maintained that democracy in Hong Kong had begun after the return of Hong Kong to China, and had developed over the past five years. He critically contrasted the current method of election of the chief executive to the appointment of governors under British rule. 'The governor was appointed by London and had arrogated all powers to himself . . . The chief executive is elected by an election committee comprising Hong Kong people . . . The 800 people [on the committee] include representatives of Hong Kong's various sectors, functions, and sides. 'Their opinions should reflect those of the majority of Hong Kong.' He added: 'To promote democracy in Hong Kong, one cannot have Hong Kong emulating the systems of other regions. Instead it should see whether [a system] is suitable to Hong Kong's characteristics, whether it is conducive to safeguarding the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and whether it would be accepted by people of various walks of life in Hong Kong.' Hong Kong's democratic system would 'further develop and perfect itself', he said, but any political system would have to 'go through a long period of gradual development before it matures and stabilises'. Mr Qian has not publicly commented on the future of profession-based functional constituencies in the past. But he has praised the Election Committee, which models the functional constituencies in its selection of the chief executive, as broadly representative. Defending this year's chief executive elections, Mr Qian said: 'As to how the so-called democracy is to be implemented and how the election is to be implemented in Hong Kong, the foremost need of Hong Kong is stability. Some reforms have to be taken step by step.'