A new row looms over whether Tung's successor can serve 10 or 12 years A fresh row is looming over the chief executive election after the government admitted yesterday it had consulted Beijing on how long the next chief executive could serve in total. Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said they had raised the issue of whether the new chief executive elected on July 10 could stand for two more terms after completing the balance of Tung Chee-hwa's tenure. If this happens, Hong Kong's next leader could serve up to 12 years in all - more than the 10 years implied in the Basic Law provision that the chief executive can only be elected for two five-year terms. Mr Lam also said he had taken note of opinions by mainland legal experts on the issue. The move throws a complex new twist into the election debate after the Hong Kong government said the term of the candidate elected in July would only last until 2007. 'We've already raised the issue with the central government,' said Mr Lam. Mr Lam flagged the possibility of consulting Beijing two weeks ago after Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie first raised the possibility of a 12-year tenure. Tsang Hin-chi, a Hong Kong member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said he would propose the issue for discussion when the committee meets next month. The comments came as Wang Zhenmin , deputy dean of Tsinghua University's Law School, who had earlier suggested a 12-year tenure was possible, said the new chief could only serve for 10 years as stipulated in the Basic Law. In an article in the Ming Pao newspaper he wrote that Article 46 of the Basic Law had two meanings. The first suggested that the chief executive was a 'government post' with a statutory term of five years, and there was no legal limitation on whether one or two people should serve the five-year term. The second meaning concerned the chief executive 'as an individual', who could not serve in the post more than twice, 'which means 10 years', he said. Article 46 states that 'the term of office of the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be five years. He or she may serve for not more than two consecutive terms'. Professor Wang said earlier this month that, under international practice, 'if the successor's remaining presidency does not exceed half of the full term of office, it will not be counted as one term of office', leaving open the possibility of a 12-year tenure. Barrister and legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said his changing views reflected that it was not the 'legislative intent' of the law that was at issue. 'They're making up the law as they go along,' she said. Professor Wang's latest views were shared by Raymond Wu Wai-yung, a Hong Kong drafter of the Basic Law, who said the new chief executive elected in July could seek re-election in 2007 but was not entitled to do so again in 2012. 'Apart from a shorter tenure, the successor to a chief executive who quits prematurely has the same powers and duties as those entrusted to the preceding leader,' said Dr Wu, a Hong Kong member of the Basic Law Committee. 'Therefore, such a new chief executive is only entitled to be re-elected once.' Chan Wing-kee, a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee member, said the Hong Kong government should seek an interpretation of the Basic Law because there were so many uncertainties. Maria Tam Wai-chu, a Basic Law drafter, said an interpretation was the only way to ensure the election was held as scheduled, but added that this situation had not yet been reached. Miss Leung would not comment on the issue last night.