Tung Chee-hwa's successor could be allowed to serve up to 12 years, Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie said yesterday. But constitutional affairs chief Stephen Lam Sui-lung said Miss Leung was citing mainland cases and the issue had to be addressed with the central government. Miss Leung also said she had tried to convince Beijing the term of the next chief executive should be five rather than two years under the Basic Law. She said that in the end, she had been persuaded by the arguments of mainland legal experts. The pair, along with acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, were speaking at a Legco House Committee special meeting where they faced questioning from lawmakers over Mr Tung's resignation last week. Mr Tsang said holding the election on July 10 was his top priority and those threatening to file a judicial review to block it stood little chance of winning. He hoped people would not cause 'a storm in tranquil waters'. 'I hope we don't have to trouble the courts, but I believe [if anyone files a legal challenge] the courts would come to the same conclusion, as well as the National People's Congress Standing Committee,' he said, referring to the decision on the two-year term. He said Hong Kong's constitutional reform process would be delayed and face a setback if the next chief executive were to serve five years. Miss Leung said the chief executive chosen on July 10 could serve up to 12 years, if the person was re-elected in 2007 and 2012. 'The present law says [the chief executive] cannot be re-elected more than once. But my understanding is that the present by-election for the remaining term would not count as one five-year term under [the Basic Law's] Article 46,' Miss Leung said. 'If you look at mainland practice, some people served longer than two terms,' she said, citing the example of former premier Li Peng , who served longer than the legally prescribed two five-year terms. But Mr Lam said: 'Miss Leung was only citing cases which had happened on the mainland ... we need to handle the issue together with relevant central government departments.' Miss Leung's spokesman said last night the government had not made a conclusion on the issue. Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, one of the pro-democracy legislators who severely criticised the government for undermining Hong Kong's autonomy, said Miss Leung's remarks showed the rule of law had been damaged.