Hong Kong seeks law interpretation on tenure
HONG KONG: The SAR government yesterday asked the State Council to request the nation's top legislature to interpret the Basic Law in an attempt to secure the smooth election of a new chief executive (CE) in July.
Announcing the decision to the Legislative Council (LegCo), acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang said the government was left with no alternative but to make the move if a new CE was to be returned lawfully and in time on July 10.
At the centre is Article 53 of the Basic Law, which concerns the term of office of the new CE to be returned in a by-election. Opinions are divided over whether it should be the remaining term of his predecessor or a full five-year term.
Article 53 provides that in the event the CE office becomes vacant, a new CE shall be selected within six months.
The Chief Executive Election Ordinance (CEEO) requires the by-election to be held on July 10 - no earlier or later - after the central government approved Tung Chee-hwa's resignation as CE on March 12.
The government decision on the law interpretation came as an amendment bill to CEEO seeking to specify the tenure of the new CE was tabled to the LegCo for the first and second reading yesterday.
Tsang urged critics to show understanding of the government's decision, saying the SAR could not run the risk of failing to elect a new CE as required by the mini-constitution and the CEEO.
He said the risk loomed lately as some LegCo members had openly opposed the amendment to the CEEO. The development was further complicated after the High Court received two applications for judicial review of the amendment.
In the latest application filed yesterday, legislator Albert Chan asked the court to declare the legal amendment breaches the Basic Law.
But Tsang warned: "If the SAR failed to elect a new CE lawfully and in time on July 10, it would affect adversely the formulation of major government policies, the governance of Hong Kong and the normal government operation."
He said that such a failure might also precipitate a constitutional crisis. Residents of Hong Kong and the international community might cast doubts on the SAR's determination and ability to implement the Basic Law. Further to that, it would adversely affect the operation of the financial market and the confidence of investors.
Such factors would not be conducive to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, the acting CE told legislators.
Tsang said the government was well aware of the community's concern over another interpretation of the Basic Law as there had been two interpretations of the document in the past seven years. He said the government would not have resorted to the move had there been other alternatives.
"I understand that although interpretation is a constitutional arrangement provided for in the Basic Law, many in the community still hope to avoid as far as possible seeking an interpretation to settle the matter (the new CE's tenure)," he said.
"If there had been an option by which we could obviate the need to seek an interpretation and which could resolve the problem, I would have gladly adopted it," said Tsang.
"However, as I have said, we have yet to come across such an option to date."
He was confident that the proposal for the State Council to request the National People's Congress Standing Committee to interpret the Basic Law would not affect "one country, two systems."
(China Daily 04/07/2005 page1)