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Commentary ... ...
    Conditions not ripe for HK to hold direct elections

2004-05-24 06:49

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) recently resolved that universal suffrage shall not be introduced for the election of Hong Kong's chief executive in 2007 and the legislature in 2008.

Yet it ruled that the methods for the elections in 2007/08 could be appropriately modified, provided that they are consistent with the principle of gradual and orderly progress as stated under the Basic Law.

I believe that such a decision takes into account the unique situation of Hong Kong (where there was no democracy in the colonial era). It is also advantageous to Hong Kong's political reform and will help it move ahead more steadily.

Some people argue that in education levels and GDP per capita, Hong Kong has attained standards similar to some Western countries and so there is no reason why Hong Kong cannot have full-blown direct elections as in other countries.

Such an argument totally ignores the situation of Hong Kong and its unique background and political development.

According to "One Country, Two Systems" and the Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region under the People's Republic of China. It is not an independent or quasi-independent political entity.

Geographically, Hong Kong is also linked to Guangdong Province, and hundreds of thousands of people travel across the border every day. With this close geographical relationship and the influence of Hong Kong electronic media which can be viewed by the 75 million people in Guangdong, any political reform in Hong Kong will inevitably affect Guangdong Province or even the whole of China.

We cannot, therefore, just pretend that Hong Kong can develop its political system regardless of the economic and political development on the Chinese mainland.

If Hong Kong were to have its political reform now at too fast a pace, it may bring about instability to Hong Kong. Not only will Hong Kong suffer from it but it will also bring about an adverse impact on the mainland's economy.

If we look at the history of some countries which underwent hasty political development, we can see that their political development had brought about harmful effects to the economy.

Having closely examined the present political system of Hong Kong and its actual development, I think that it is premature to have direct elections at this stage.

To cite an example, at present there are almost 3 million registered electors, with a considerable percentage of them holding foreign residency or citizenship. If we were to have direct elections at this stage, this will result in a strange scenario in which the chief executive and Legislative Council members are elected by overseas nationals. So far, this is not accepted in any part of the world.

Of course, Hong Kong is a place with mixed Chinese and Western cultures. In fact, about 20 per cent of the incumbent members of the Legislative Council hold overseas passports. I think it is time to consider seriously whether this situation should be allowed to continue. There are also far too many outstanding issues that need to be resolved before implementing direct elections.

We should realize that Hong Kong will increasingly be affected by policies of the mainland. Therefore, we need to find the right orientation for political reform. Hong Kong's political reform must go hand in hand with national developments and the local situation.

Indeed, the decision of the NPCSC leaves plenty of room and sufficient flexibility for Hong Kong's own political reform. We should have the courage and perseverance in proposing a gradual timetable to put into practice the "One Country, Two Systems" principle, and make sure Hong Kong is run by Hong Kong people who love Hong Kong and the country.

(HK Edition 05/24/2004 page10)