Sunday, 14 June 2015

Pan-democrats urged to think twice

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam

This week, we will know whether Hong Kong’s 5 million eligible voters will be able to elect the Chief Executive through one person, one vote in 2017.

 

On Wednesday, the Secretary for Constitutional & Mainland Affairs will move a motion at the Legislative Council to amend Annex I to the Basic Law. We expect the motion debate and vote to take place within this week.

 

To date, 41 pro-establishment legislators have declared their support for the Government’s proposal which, if endorsed, will allow Hong Kong people to elect the next Chief Executive through one person, one vote.

 

Whether we can fulfil this long-held aspiration now hinges on how the pan-democratic lawmakers vote.

 

I have on a number of occasions described this exercise as the most challenging task of my public service. To me, it is not just my duty but a mission to mark a historic milestone in Hong Kong’s constitutional development.

 

In October 2013, the Chief Executive established the Task Force on Constitutional Development headed by me. Since then, taking forward constitutional development has been my first priority.

 

Focus of discussion

Over the past 20 months, I have taken part in 124 consultation sessions and forums and about 20 district visits to inform the public of our proposals. I have met the media on around 100 occasions to answer questions about constitutional development. And I have had numerous meetings with legislators, professional bodies and academics.

 

All Principal Officials have gone all out to achieve one goal: one person, one vote for Hong Kong’s 5 million eligible voters, the right to tick a ballot paper for your preferred Chief Executive candidate in 2017.

 

The path for the democratic development of Hong Kong since the return to the motherland has been full of twists and turns. We have had some successes and some failures, and these remain fresh in our memories.

 

For 20 months the task force has regularly and persistently explained that the constitutional development of Hong Kong must be based on the Basic Law and relevant interpretation and decisions of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Any deviation from this clear-cut constitutional basis is just like building a castle in the sky. It has no solid foundation, and it cannot fly.

 

Constitutional basis cannot be modified

Despite our concerted and sincere efforts, some pan-democratic legislators and political groups still refuse to accept the constitutional basis of our proposals. This is worrying.

 

I joined the Government in 1980 and I have met legislators of all political persuasions in many different roles over the past 35 years. With such a long acquaintance, I truly believe that all of us are committed to forging a better future for Hong Kong.

 

When I took the oath to become a Principal Official, I pledged to uphold the Basic Law, to bear allegiance to the HKSAR of the People’s Republic of China and to serve the HKSAR. This was also the pledge made by LegCo members when they took their oath of office.

 

Government officials and legislators do have different jobs and roles. Sometimes we disagree on policies or issues. Yet, we invariably want the best for Hong Kong people. In the back of my mind, always, is the firmly held belief that public policies must serve the overall and long-term interests and well-being of the community at large.

 

Proposal fulfils mandatory stipulations

I believe that the Government’s proposal that will soon be put before LegCo for a vote is one that serves the overall and long-term interests of both the country and the HKSAR. It fulfils the stipulations in the Basic Law and the Decision of the NPCSC on August 31, 2014. It complies with the design principles of the HKSAR’s political structure.

 

Having fully explored the possibilities within the framework of the August 31 Decision, we have devised a proposal that is open, fair and competitive. It responds to the strong aspiration of different sectors of society for implementation of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive election as scheduled, and strikes a balance among diverse views. The proposal helps us reach the goal of selecting the Chief Executive by universal suffrage in a way that best meets Hong Kong’s unique and actual situation.

 

The proposal includes three liberal and democratic features.

 

* Lower nomination threshold to encourage competition: We propose lowering the number of recommendations required and introducing for the first time an upper limit on the number of recommendations a person seeking nomination can receive. Each person would need no less than 120 but no more than 240 recommendations from the nominating committee. This system allows at least five and at most 10 places for those seeking nomination. It not only provides the nominating committee with more choices but also makes the nominating procedures more competitive.

 

* Two to N votes to enhance fair competition: In deciding whether they should support all or some persons seeking nomination, nominating committee members may base their decision on different factors such as the missions, manifestoes and performance of the persons seeking nomination. They will not be limited in their voting options. This allows greater room for those persons to seek the nominating committee’s support and for nominating committee members to support a number of their favourite candidates, making the process more competitive.

 

* Secret ballot to ensure free choice: Since nominating committee members will not have to disclose their choice, they can vote for their preferred candidates according to their free will and with no pressure.

 

This universal suffrage proposal is constitutionally and legally in order, fair and reasonable. It allows elections to be conducted in an open, fair, just and competitive manner.

 

 

Big step forward

Compared to the current method of selecting the Chief Executive by a 1,200-member election committee, the Government’s proposal is undoubtedly a big step forward in our history. If LegCo vetoes the proposal, Hong Kong’s constitutional system would come to a standstill, and we would be nowhere nearer the goal of achieving universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive, let alone the subsequent goal of universal suffrage for all members of LegCo.

 

In discussions on constitutional development, the “justification for veto” most often cited by pan-democratic legislators is that there is no room for further improvement of the electoral method and that it will be in place forever once passed.

 

Let me, once again, state the facts of the matter. Article 7 of Annex I to the Basic Law and the interpretation by the NPCSC in 2004 have clearly established the legal basis and procedures to initiate further amendments to the Chief Executive selection method. So, there is no question of having the selection method cast in stone forever. When necessary, the incumbent Chief Executive can consider the need to amend the selection method and initiate the amendment process according to the procedures mentioned above and in light of the actual situation at that time.

 

Another frequently used “justification for veto” is that the HKSAR Government has failed to fully convey the views and aspirations of the public - in particular those of the pan-democratic legislators - to the Central Authorities, and therefore we should restart the entire process.

 

Again, I have to solemnly state the facts of the matter. The reports submitted by the Chief Executive and the task force to the NPCSC in July 2014 reflected truthfully the views received during the consultation. All written submissions received were incorporated in their original forms into the appendices to the report of the task force.

 

In addition, before the NPCSC’s August 31 Decision, the HKSAR Government arranged four meetings in 2014 between all LegCo members and the Central Authorities’ officials responsible for Hong Kong’s constitutional development.

 

They included breakfast meetings hosted by me in March, the Shanghai visit in April, the meetings with the Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR at the Central Government Offices in July and the Shenzhen seminar in August last year.

 

Lawmakers have directly expressed their views

Clearly, legislators did have the opportunity to express their views directly to the Central Authorities’ officials at these meetings. It is, thus, groundless to accuse the HKSAR Government of deceiving the Central Authorities.

 

In the Legislative Council Chamber, the pan-democratic legislators sit opposite government officials. But it does not follow that we always take an opposite stance. On social issues relating to people’s livelihood, we often manage to find common ground after heated discussions.

 

For constitutional development, our views on the actual method to select the Chief Executive by universal suffrage may differ, but that does not mean we have to stand divided. As we are all working for the democratic development of Hong Kong, I hope we can set aside our differences and strive to achieve a goal shared by all.

 

We must seize this opportunity to secure endorsement of the reform proposal. We have a real chance, a historic opportunity, to realise our dream of selecting the CE by “one person, one vote” in 2017. We must not let it slip away.

 

Pan-democratic legislators have persistently vowed to bundle their votes to vote down any proposal based on the August 31 Decision framework. Nonetheless, I sincerely urge them to think twice about such an approach. Many surveys have found more supporters than opponents of LegCo passing the Government’s proposal.

 

Public opinion on the matter is clear. I do hope that pan-democrat legislators can respect the wishes of the majority and cast the decisive votes for this universal suffrage proposal for the Chief Executive election.

 

Democratic development at critical juncture

Hong Kong’s democratic development is at a critical juncture. I am worried that violent protests will again be staged when we put the proposal to a vote. In this regard, I urge all protesters to express their views calmly and peacefully.

 

I am, of course, also worried about what might follow if the proposal is vetoed. For a start, our democratic development would come to a standstill. The community and legislature would remain divided. In the end, all Hong Kong people would suffer. I was born and brought up in Hong Kong. As a Hongkonger, how can I possibly be indifferent to such a scenario?

 

I hope that our pan-democratic legislators will carefully weigh the consequences and vote to support the proposal. I do believe that Hong Kong’s 5 million eligible voters want the chance to elect their Chief Executive. For Hong Kong to take this historic step, I appeal to all the pan-democrats to show your political courage and make the right choice. Hong Kong needs your vote for the proposal to implement universal suffrage for the Chief Executive election.

 

This appeal from the Chief Secretary was published in several local newspapers.


Regards,
Otmane El Rhazi
Department of Commerce
Economic Development
Text/Mobile, +44 7414 782 320

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