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    Timetable demand goes against law
Chen Hanwen
2005-11-01 07:14

The fact that a timetable for universal suffrage is not provided in the Fifth Report of the Constitutional Development Task Force has aroused strong reactions from some members of the "democratic" camp. They claim that since the time schedule is the core of the constitutional reform exercise, its absence in the report is an indication that the central and SAR governments defy the wish of Hong Kong people and lack sincerity in implementing universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, giving Hongkongers an endless wait. Some of them even threaten to vote down the reform package.

As a matter of fact, their demand is not only unlawful but also impractical.

The reason that no timetable can be set in the Fifth Report is that, first of all, the report must not go beyond the scope defined by the National People's Congress (NPC). On April 15 last year, the then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, using the principles of the Basic Law and its interpretation by the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) on April 6, submitted a report to the NPCSC on whether any amendment should be made to the methods to select the CE in 2007 and legislators in 2008.

After studying the report, the NPCSC decided on April 26 that the Hong Kong SAR could make appropriate amendments, in a gradual and orderly manner, to the two election methods in question as long as it is willing to do it under three conditions, one of which is not to implement universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008.

Under such circumstances, the SAR government launched the process to amend the two election methods. After broad consultation, the release of the third and fourth reports on constitutional development, and ascertaining related principles and conditions, the authorities have just announced in the fifth report the mainstream option for altering the two election methods.

Tracing its origin, it is not difficult to find that the fifth report is actually the implementation of the NPCSC's April 26 decision in accordance with the actual situation in Hong Kong. And the decision allows amendment only to the 2007 and 2008 election methods and not to those beyond 2008.

If a timetable were to be fixed in the fifth report, there would have been only two possibilities: one is to suggest the realization of universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, but that option has already been ruled out by the April 26 decision. Another is to propose its implementation in 2012 or a later year, which would have again gone beyond the scope of the April 26 decision. Therefore, whatever timetable could have been put forward in the fifth report would not have been in line with the law.

Another reason for the impossibility of setting this timetable in the fifth report is that such a demand is removed from reality. The Basic Law requires the SAR's political development to tally with the actual situation in the territory. By "actual situation", it should mean either the current state of political and social development or that of recent years. It could not possibly refer to the conditions 10 or more years from now because we cannot predict the future. If we now fix the timetable through legislation, it may not suit the future situation. No matter whether this schedule is ahead of or behind future realities, it would still not conform to the Basic Law's requirement that constitutional development must tally with the actual situation.

Moreover, paragraph 7 of Annex I and paragraph 3 of Annex II of the Basic Law provide that if it is necessary to amend the methods to select the CE and the legislators after 2007, the amendment must be endorsed by two-thirds of all LegCo members and by the CE and be submitted to NPCSC for approval or for the record.

If a time schedule is decided for universal suffrage at this point, that means the incumbent CE and legislators have pre-determined the methods to produce the next few CEs and legislatures. That would be tantamount to depriving their successors of the right to make their decisions. This would also violate the legislative intent of developing the political system according to the actual situation.

Certainly, the fact that it is not appropriate to include a time schedule in the fifth report does not mean that we cannot study and discuss the election methods after 2008. The Basic Law has laid down the principle and direction for the SAR's democratic advancement. Judging from the actual situation in the eight years after Hong Kong's reunification with the motherland, it is not difficult to trace the distinct track of democratization moving forward in a gradual and orderly manner: the Election Committee (EC) expanding from 400 to 800 members, legislators returned from direct elections increasing from 20 to 24 and then to 30.

The fifth report proposes that the membership of the next-term EC be doubled to 1,600 and the additional five seats for functional constituencies be all allotted to district councils. Since the electorate base of functional constituencies exceeds 3 million people, the representativeness of the CE and the legislature would thus be further bolstered.

On this basis, the SAR government has set up under the Commission on Strategic Development a political subgroup to consult Hong Kong people over issues relating to universal suffrage with the intention to seek consensus.

All these have truly reflected the sincerity of the central and SAR governments to develop Hong Kong's democracy under the principles put forward by the Basic Law and ultimately realize universal suffrage.

Hence, the fifth report's lack of a timetable could never indicate the road to universal suffrage is blocked hereafter. To the contrary, the fifth report package is extending the road to the eventual goal. The apprehension that "universal suffrage would be forever delayed" is by no means warranted.

(HK Edition 11/01/2005 page2)


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