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Remarks by Acting CE at press conference


    Following is the transcript of remarks (English portion) by the Acting Chief Executive, Mr Donald Tsang, at a press conference held at the Central Government Offices today (April 6):

Reporter: There is speculation that this whole issue - the two-year term, the possible interpretation, the legal challenges, all revolve around the issue that Beijing doesn't trust you with a full five-year term. Do you feel any pressure since you are a holdover from the British system to prove your patriotism to Beijing?

Acting Chief Executive: I think there is excessive speculation over this issue. We have one problem to resolve and that is we have to hold the election in accordance with the Basic Law, in accordance with our domestic legislation on July 10. And as regards the term, we have done enormous research on this, including the legislative intent and we have come to the conclusion - using our own legal tradition - that the term of office of the new Chief Executive elected in these circumstances should be the remainder of Mr Tung's original term - that is two years. For this reason we are now seeking legislation but unfortunately the problem arises over the judicial review which is now under way and there is a time constraint within which we must work and we need an interpretation from the NPC Standing Committee. I think any speculation is quite unnecessary. We do have a constitutional duty to perform and we need to do it properly. This is the wish of the Hong Kong people.

Reporter: The American system is working with the President ... if he is serving ... the Vice-President is automatically the one who is filling up the term remaining. Do you think it's necessary to amend the Basic Law that way as it seems to be working quite well in other countries and to what extent do you think this kind of amendment business is feasible with, I don't know, perhaps not only with the Central Government, but the other party which was also on the table, ......?

Acting Chief Executive: I am sure every territory has its own system to deal with the situation of a resignation of the Chief Executive or President or Prime Minister. The Hong Kong arrangement is set out in the Basic Law. I'm not saying it is superior to the American system, but there is a provision for it. The problem that we face now is that there is a dispute over what it means, although the original legislative intent is quite clear, and the matter could be resolved as we have proposed by an interpretation by the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Reporter: You referred yet again to pressing matters and less pressing matters. What is it about the length of term that is so pressing that it must be resolved before July 10 but other matters can wait until later on. Why can't - as the Hon Margaret Ng put it to you - why can't you proceed with the procedures for the election and allow the question of the length of term to be resolved by the courts subsequently. What makes it so urgent?

Acting Chief Executive: I believe it is irresponsible on the part of the administration to ask people to come for the election without telling them how long they may serve. It is absolutely unfair to the candidates and to the people involved. And what happens afterwards if someone is elected on the understanding that he is going to serve X years and it suddenly becomes Y years. The electors may have very strong grounds for judicial review to overturn that decision and the person involved is equally aggrieved if he is going to serve either a shorter or longer term. In any case, to me it is a matter of utter irresponsibility on the part of the administration to go forward for an election without stipulating quite clearly and resolving the question of term.

Reporter: Wouldn't the unreasonableness, if any, to an individual be greatly outweighed by the benefit to the community not to have to go through something that you yourself said you would really prefer not to?

Acting Chief Executive: Yes. But we must not forget that the power of interpretation and the machinery and the system of interpretation to resolve disputes of this kind is enshrined in a constitutional document - apparently in Article 158 of the Basic Law. It is part of the mechanism to specifically resolve questions of this kind. And it is the time to invoke the mechanism however unpalatable it may be to some people.

Reporter: Many legal experts are totally against this idea of seeking an interpretation from Beijing and it is hard to believe that they are all wrong. How are you going to convince people that you are not sacrificing the rule of law for perhaps political and practical reasons?

Acting Chief Executive: I respect the views of lawyers and also I respect more the views of the Secretary for Justice. We have done enormous research into this matter and considered this matter very carefully, coming to a conclusion, which I support, for forming the basis of what we propose to do in the domestic legislation. We must remember also that what we are proposing to do is in strict accordance with the design of the Basic Law, which authorises us, in fact, creates this mechanism to resolve disputes of this kind. This is inherent. It is in the provisions of Article 158 of the Basic Law. What we are doing is totally consistent with the spirit and the terms of the Basic Law. Nothing more. Nothing less. Constitutional disputes of this kind are also inherent in most other territories having a written constitution, whether it is the United States, Canada and Australia or whatever. So it is important to realise, however we might not wish to invoke the provision of 158, there are occasions that we need to do so and it is absolutely proper for us to do so.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Wednesday, April 6, 2005


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