NPC may be called on to give ruling on a reduced term Strong signals emerged yesterday that any successor to Tung Chee-hwa, if he leaves office prematurely, would just serve out the remainder of the chief executive's term until 2007 - not five years as stipulated by the Basic Law. The thinking was backed by officials and legal experts on the mainland, which has raised fears that another interpretation of the Basic Law is in the offing. Article 46 says: 'The term of office of the chief executive shall be five years.' Analysts believe the two-year term, if adopted, will be a decision made for political expediency. The arrangement would allow Beijing to buy time to see whether Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - widely tipped to take over from mr Tung - is the right choice, and if not, to consider other candidates for the next term in 2007. 'Under the Basic Law, if the serving chief executive resigns on the grounds of illness, his successor should only serve out the outgoing leader's remaining tenure,' Yu Xiaosong, vice-director of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference committee on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau compatriots said in Beijing yesterday. But if the chief executive stepped down for other reasons, the central government and the Election Committee might think the successor should stay longer to fulfil his or her policy platform, Mr Yu added. His remarks were the first public comments by a Beijing official since news this week of Mr Tung's appointment to the CPPCC indicated he was on the way out. Zhang Tongxin , director of the Centre for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Studies at the People's University in Beijing, said the election of a successor would be a 'by-election' and the winner would still be considered the second chief executive. The election of the third chief would be held as scheduled in 2007. Another senior mainland legal expert cited the example of Li Peng , who succeeded Zhao Ziyang as premier in 1987 following Zhao's promotion to general secretary of the Communist Party. 'Li Peng's tenure as acting premier ended in 1988 and he then started a new term after he was elected premier by the National People's Congress,' he said. In Hong Kong, an executive councillor said it would not make sense for a new chief executive to be elected by the present 800-strong Election Committee - which was supposed to elect only the second chief executive - and then serve five years. 'But I cannot see how the new chief executive could serve a two-year term without a fresh interpretation of the Basic Law. The term 'two years' or 'remaining years' is simply not stated in the book. This is a very tricky one,' he said. Basic Law Committee members Ng Hong-man and Albert Chen Hung-yee have said the new chief executive should serve until 2010. But Basic Law drafter Louis Cha Leung-yung says an interpretation may be needed. 'We did not discuss this issue at the time because this is a special situation that is unlikely to happen. According to the spirit of the Basic Law, when there is no stipulation in the law, it should be explained by the [NPC] Standing Committee,' he said. If Beijing opts for an interpretation, it would be the third interpretation of the Basic Law since the handover. The first came in 1998 over the right of abode issue, and the second was made last year when Beijing ruled out full democracy for Hong Kong in 2007-08.