SCMA speaks at National Democratic Institute's political reform forum (English only) (with photos)
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     The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, addressed a forum organised by the National Democratic Institute in its Hong Kong Political Reform Series íV The 2009 Consultation Document "Will it Break the Deadlock?" this (January 9) morning. Following is Mr Lam's speech:

Hong Kong's Democratic Destiny
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     Thank you very much, Johannes, for the invitation and the opportunity to address this very distinguished audience íV members of the community who truly care about the promotion of democracy in Hong Kong. On this occasion, I would like to emphasise five aspects.

     Firstly, I would like to emphasise that Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government are fully committed to the introduction of democracy in Hong Kong and the attainment of universal suffrage.

     Back in the 1980's when the Joint Declaration was negotiated between Britain and China, only very simple provisions were incorporated into that agreement on the future of Hong Kong about elections íV the Legislative Council shall be constituted by elections; the Chief Executive shall be returned either through local consultations or elections.  There was no mention about universal suffrage.

     It was only between 1985 and 1990 when Beijing consulted the Hong Kong community about the drafting of our Basic Law íV our mini-constitution, and the Hong Kong community expressed our aspirations for attaining democracy that Beijing eventually decided in 1990 to incorporate the ultimate aim of attaining universal suffrage into Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law that the Chief Executive and the legislature shall be eventually returned by universal suffrage.  

     This undertaking surpasses the undertakings given in the Joint Declaration.  Thus, the promise of universal suffrage was an initiative taken by Beijing for the benefit of Hong Kong in the long run.

     Secondly, the universal suffrage timetable set by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress through its Decision taken in December 2007 is constitutional and firm.  

     Article 62 of the PRC Constitution provides that it is for the National People's Congress to determine systems to be practised in a Special Administrative Region.

     Thus, as the Standing Committee made this Decision back in 2007 that the Chief Executive may be returned through universal suffrage in 2017, and following that all members of the legislature may be returned through universal suffrage in 2020, this Decision has constitutional status. It is legal and it has effect.

     All that Hong Kong needs to achieve between now and 2017, 2020 is to attain consensus on the form of universal suffrage elections in those two years.

     Recently, the national archives in the U.K. were released about diplomatic discussions between Britain and China leading up to the commencement of the negotiations on Hong Kong's future in 1982. Specifically, the archives revealed that Sir Murray MacLehose back in 1979 visited Beijing as Governor of Hong Kong.  

     Between 1982 and 1984, Margaret Thatcher's Government was able to secure some general provisions about the introduction of elections in Hong Kong.  But the third-term HKSAR Government íV Donald Tsang's Administration íV has been able to secure a clear and firm universal suffrage timetable for Hong Kong.  This attainment is a most important milestone which sets clear directions and time-frames for rolling forward democracy for the Hong Kong community. This is an important achievement. This achievement surpasses any that has been attained by previous terms of Hong Kong Government.

     Thirdly, we believe that it is very important for Hong Kong to make substantive progress in 2012 for electing the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. Thus, for example, we have proposed in this consultation document that we should increase the size of the legislature from 60 seats to 70 seats in 2012.  

     As part of this package, we propose for the 10 new additional seats in 2012 íV five of those which will have to be allocated to functional constituencies in accordance with the Decision of the Standing Committee, these five additional seats should only be allocated to District Councillors i.e. elected District Councillors returning legislators from amongst themselves.

     We have decided to suggest that this is the better way forward because District Councillors have a very broad electorate base íV the 3.3 million registered voters of Hong Kong. This electorate base is identical to the geographical Legislative Council elections. And if we eventually adopt this proposal, we will end up having a legislature of 70 seats about 60 per cent of which is comprised of directly or indirectly geographically returned legislators.

     Aside from making substantive progress in 2012, we also believe that it is important to roll things forward because by doing so, the Hong Kong community will gain confidence and experience in dealing with the procedures for making constitutional change. We have a five-step procedure. And this is particularly important at this point in time because we need to attain universal suffrage for returning the Chief Executive in 2017. We got eight years. If we succeed in going through this cycle of five steps this time round, we will be in a much better position to handle the constitutional arrangements between 2012 and 2017 for returning the Chief Executive through universal suffrage in eight years' time.

     My fourth point is that, Johannes, you mentioned that now that we have a finite universal suffrage timetable, we need to make specific, gradual and orderly progress. I very much agree. Even though there are certain issues concerning introduction of universal suffrage which we may not be able to resolve for today, it is necessary for us to narrow the gap between the electoral system that we have now and the universal suffrage models in 2017 and 2020.
     
     On this general point, I would like to cite two aspects in particular.  The first aspect is that, the Decision taken by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in 2007 is largely about universal suffrage timetable. But there was actually also some reference to the model for implementing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive in 2017. It says here, "the nominating committee for putting forth candidates for the Chief Executive may be formed with reference to the current provisions regarding the Election Committee in Annex I to the Basic Law". Therefore, if we can attain consensus on the formation of the Election Committee in 2012, then between 2012 and 2017, we are left with one key and critical issue to resolve, and that is the "democratic procedures" for nominating the Chief Executive in 2017.

     The second aspect I would like to cite is that for 2012, we, as the Government, has suggested that we should no longer create any "traditional" functional constituency seats. By "traditional" functional constituency seats, I mean Chambers of Commerce, trade unions, and other professional bodies.

     Instead, we have proposed that District Council representatives should be increased, so as to widen the democratic franchise of the Legislative Council.  If we can make progress in this manner, then íV

* we will have a better basis on which to make further progress in 2016; and

* thereafter, we can pave the way for introducing universal suffrage for the legislature in 2020 through forming the Legislative Council in accordance with the principles of universality  and equality.  And on this particular aspect, Johannes, I would like to affirm once again that even back in 2007, through the public consultation on the Green Paper on universal suffrage, the Hong Kong Government had already made it clear that in attaining universal suffrage, we should comply with the principles of universality and equality.

     Finally, to address the question "Will we be able to break the deadlock?". I very much hope so. In the last four years, this Government has tried to make further progress despite the constraints that we faced.

     Firstly, we have secured this universal suffrage timetable from Beijing. This removed one obstacle which in 2005 stood in the way of the legislature approving the package that we put forth for 2007 and 2008. Back in 2005, the pan-democratic camp felt unable to support the package we put forth then. Now that we have got a universal suffrage timetable, that should in theory remove the obstacle.

     Also, back in 2005, the pan-democratic camp did not accept our proposal that appointed District Councillors should be involved in the election of the Election Committee representatives and Legislative Council Members. This time round we have also suggested that for 2012, we should no longer include appointed District Councillors in this manner. Instead, the franchise should be limited to directly elected District Councillors.

     But I am a realistic guy, I know that even though we have removed these obstacles, new ones will prop up and certain views will still come forth to make this an ongoing challenge for us. But, my main conclusion is that now that we have a universal suffrage timetable, successive terms of the Hong Kong Government and the Legislative Council will have a constitutional and historic responsibility to attain the ultimate aim of universal suffrage for Hong Kong.

     Hong Kong actually already has in place many of the elements which complement democratic elections in open and civil societies íV

* We have an independent Court of Final Appeal which functions according to the Basic Law and common law.

* We have a Bill of Rights Ordinance which guarantees press freedom and other freedoms in Hong Kong.

* We have cabinet-style government which embodies politically-appointed Secretaries who in turn are accountable to the legislature and the public.

     Johannes, you mentioned about the Chief Executive not being a member of political party according to local legislation. But, actually, within the parameters of the Basic Law, the Chief Executive has ample room to form a political alliance and it is necessary, I believe, for successive terms of the Chief Executive to do so.

     According to the Basic Law, the Chief Executive may appoint legislators to be members of the Executive Council. Herein lies the room for such a political alliance to be formed. Any Chief Executive can invite members of the legislature, particularly leaders of political parties or deputy leaders, who have votes among their parties in the legislature, to join our cabinet íV the Executive Council. It is also possible now for politically-affiliated party members to become Secretaries of the Government. Therefore, even though for now the local legislation still stipulates that once a person is elected he or she shall relinquish his or her political party membership, I believe the Chief Executive will continue to be a most political person in the Hong Kong community.

     Back in 2005 when we did the previous round of public consultation on the 2007 and 2008 electoral models, we did an opinion poll. And back in those days, 70 per cent of Hong Kong people expressed the view that they would prefer the Chief Executive not to be a member of political party. And I interpret this view to be that Hong Kong people would like the Chief Executive to balance the opinions and the aspirations among different political groups, and to act in the overall interest of Hong Kong community and Hong Kong people. That view still carries weight today.

     But I believe that as we roll forward democracy and as we attain universal suffrage in 2017, the face of Hong Kong politics will change. The candidates who wish to stand for Chief Executive in 2017, all of them will need to have a political team who will help them craft their manifestoes, pull votes, do media functions and secure support among different sectors of Hong Kong community.

     It is actually most important for Hong Kong to attain universal suffrage in 2017. Once that is done, the Chief Executive will have to act according to the electoral manifesto, will have to put forth specific programmes in livelihood terms, socio-economic policies in order to respond to the aspirations of the Hong Kong community. It is also critical for that Chief Executive to put forth the model for attaining universal suffrage for the legislature in 2020. He or she who is going to be Chief Executive in 2017 will have that historic and constitutional mission to fulfill. It is also best for that person to lead the Hong Kong community to resolve that ultimate question for attaining democracy for Hong Kong.

     Now, as a final appeal, I know that different political parties will consider this package of proposals to be not ideal. I fully accept that. But I would like to appeal to different political parties, groups and leaders of the Hong Kong community seated here today to consider supporting the idea that we make progress in 2012. Even though this package may not be ideal, it is much better for us to roll forward democracy and not to stand still for the next few years.

     Once that is done, once we have voted on the package for 2012 in the course of 2010, it is still entirely possible for different political parties to pursue what they consider to be the ideal electoral models for Chief Executive and legislature universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020. There is no conflict between supporting progress in 2012 and pursuing universal suffrage ideals for 2017 and 2020. Therefore, my final appeal is very simple íV roll forward democracy, do not stand still.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, January 9, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:05

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