Discuss CE election on basis of the Basic Law

Updated: 2014-03-04 07:51

By Carrie LAM Cheng Yuet-ngor (HK Edition)

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We are now halfway through the five-month consultation on constitutional development. The three members of the Task Force on Constitutional Development have pressed on with the gathering of views of different sectors. In the feedback received so far, a number of commonly-held views are notable:

First, it is the common aspiration of Hong Kong people to see the timely implementation of universal suffrage in the election of the Chief Executive (CE) through "one person, one vote" in 2017. Nobody wants a stalemate in constitutional development.

Second, subscribing to the rule of law as a core value of Hong Kong, the public generally agrees that constitutional development must proceed in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant interpretation and decisions of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC).

Third, many people agree that the CE must be someone who loves both our country and Hong Kong. The requirements and stipulations of the Basic Law have made it clear that anyone holding the post of CE must love both our country and Hong Kong to ensure that he will faithfully exercise the constitutional powers and discharge the duties associated with this important position.

Fourth, given the Basic Law's stipulation that the CE shall be selected by universal suffrage upon nomination by a nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures, the community should conduct serious discussions about composition of the nominating committee, the nominating procedures and the number of candidates to be nominated, etc.

Discuss CE election on basis of the Basic Law

At present, the major difference in public opinions lies in the nominating procedures. Quite a number of people consider that candidates for the office of the CE should be nominated solely by the nominating committee as required by the Basic Law. Some bodies, however, have put forward alternative proposals such as "civic nomination", "nomination by political parties" and "three-track nomination". There are also views suggesting there should be no "screening", but without clearly defining or explaining what "screening" means. The views of political parties and political organizations at this time are rather polarized. Many are reiterations of their stance or slogan-type statements, lacking substantive supporting arguments or giving little consideration to the principles and provisions relating to the political structure as stipulated in the Basic Law.

I am genuinely concerned that if people just hold on to their own stance, refusing to return to the legal framework of the Basic Law or accept political reality, universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election will become nothing but castle in the air. And once again, our democratic process will reach an impasse.

The Task Force has been emphasizing that when we discuss the method for selecting the CE by universal suffrage, we should consider thoroughly the feasibility of the proposals from legal, political and operational perspectives simultaneously. On the legal perspective, the Secretary for Justice has earlier shared in a newspaper article his legal viewpoint on whether the proposals of "civic nomination" and "nomination by political parties" are consistent with Article 45 of the Basic Law. I wish to share with you my views from a political perspective.

The design of the our political structure is related to the manifestation of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the full implementation of the basic policies of the State regarding Hong Kong. Any proposal for implementing universal suffrage must be in strict compliance with the four major principles on constitutional development under the Basic Law, namely meeting the interests of different sectors of society, facilitating the development of the capitalist economy, gradual and orderly progress, and being appropriate to the actual situation in Hong Kong. For example, it is stipulated in the Basic Law that the composition of the nominating committee must be "broadly representative" so as to realize the principle of "meeting the interests of different sectors of society" regarding the design of the political structure. Judging from this, a nominating committee modeled on the framework of the broadly representative four-sector Election Committee currently in place will stand a better chance to be accepted in both the legal and political context.

As for the nomination procedures, Article 45 of the Basic Law clearly stipulates that the power to nominate candidates is vested in the nominating committee. Any proposal bypassing the nominating committee or undermining its substantive nomination power will not be acceptable in the realm of law. In fact, the Legislative Council, the CE, the SAR Government and the NPCSC are all required to act according to law. On the political side, any proposal that is legally controversial is unlikely to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council and obtain the consent of the CE and the approval of the NPCSC.

At this juncture of the consultation, I think we should have practical discussions based on the provisions of the Basic Law, instead of wasting time and efforts in making proposals over which a consensus is hard to achieve. This is the right and direct way to implement universal suffrage for the CE election.

In the light of the prevailing situation, outlook for the successful implementation of universal suffrage for the CE election is not very bright, though the prospect is not yet completely bleak. I firmly believe that the wider community supports achieving the goal of universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election according to law. I also believe that most political parties do not want to see failure to attain the goal. Implementing universal suffrage for the 2017 CE election is absolutely a big step forward along our road towards democracy. This is not only a solemn commitment of the central authorities to Hong Kong but also the aspiration shared by seven million Hong Kong people. With slightly more than two months to go before the end of the consultation, the Task Force has a duty to give timely advice. I would like to urge all sectors of the community to initiate more constructive discussions, in particular, more comprehensive and thorough deliberations on specific issues such as the composition of the nominating committee, the nomination procedures and the electoral methods, so as to identify a proposal for universal suffrage that complies with the Basic Law and best meets the actual situation of Hong Kong. We must not let this opportunity to achieve universal suffrage slip away.

It is my earnest hope that all parties across the political spectrum will bear Hong Kong's long-term interests at heart, apply their political wisdom and seek consensus through open and rational communication with people of different views. Only through this would our 5 million eligible voters have a chance to elect the next CE in 2017 as planned and celebrate the important milestone in the democratic development of Hong Kong.

The author is chief secretary for administration of the Hong Kong SAR Government.

(HK Edition 03/04/2014 page9)