A top mainland official yesterday left some Hong Kong legal representatives puzzled with his reasoning on why, under the Basic Law, the next chief executive should only serve out the remainder of Tung Chee-hwa's term. Article 45 Concern Group member Alan Leong Kah-kit said he could not follow the logic of the argument put forward by National People's Congress Standing Committee deputy secretary-general Qiao Xiaoyang . Mr Qiao met 82 legal-sector representatives, including the four pro-democracy lawmakers of the Article 45 group, in Shenzhen to discuss the forthcoming Basic Law interpretation on the next chief executive's term. Speaking after a four-hour seminar, he said an interpretation by Beijing was the only way to ensure the election of the new chief executive in July, and people should respect the legislature's powers of interpretation. Mr Qiao said the crux of the debate over the term lay in whether Article 46 or Article 53 of the Basic Law should apply when an incumbent left office prematurely. If Article 46, which states that the term of office shall be five years, was applied in such a case, it would be inconsistent with Annex I of the mini-constitution, which says the chief executive shall be selected by an Election Committee that has a five-year term. The present committee's term ends this year and the government is in the midst of consultations for the electoral arrangements for 2007. 'One of the reasons for forming an Election Committee is to choose a new chief executive in the event a leader leaves office prematurely,' Mr Qiao said. He said Article 53, which states that if the office of chief executive becomes vacant, a replacement shall be selected within six months in accordance with the provisions of Article 45, should apply in the case of Mr Tung. Article 45 says the chief executive should be selected in accordance with 'gradual and orderly progression' to universal suffrage. The Hong Kong government has used this to support its contention the next chief should serve only two years, saying a five-year term would disrupt the orderly progression. Mr Qiao said that if Annex I was amended to provide for an Election Committee without a specific term of office or if the chief executive was eventually elected by universal suffrage, the successor to a leader who quit prematurely should have a five-year term. Mr Leong said he did not understand Mr Qiao's comment on the relationship between Article 46 and Annex I. 'I cannot follow the logic and I do not understand the reasoning behind that,' he said. The pro-democracy lawyers described the meeting as a frank exchange of opinions, but remained unconvinced that interpretation was the only solution.