South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Carrie Lam says we have to seize the opportunity to enact universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election as to do otherwise would only block future development
The second round of consultation on constitutional development has now been launched. Members of the public are invited to express their views on the method of universal suffrage to be adopted for the chief executive election in 2017. This is part of the preparation for step three of the “five-step process”, which requires the government to propose a reform package to the Legislative Council.
Following the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision on August 31, 23 pan-democratic legislators have vowed to boycott the second round of consultation and vote against any proposal drawn up by the government. Four other pan-democrats hold an even more radical stance.
On the face of it, there is a slim chance our reform proposal will get passed. As such, some might ask: “What’s the point of the second round of consultation if it is doomed to go nowhere?”
The answer is that it is our solemn duty to do so, and we will never give up our efforts to rally public and Legco support. This is not a mission impossible. And that is because we have a firm conviction that implementing universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election, in accordance with the law, is definitely beneficial to Hong Kong and is an opportunity that must not be cast aside.
First, selecting the chief executive by universal suffrage is the common aspiration of the central authorities, the Hong Kong government as well as the people of Hong Kong. In the first round of public consultation, we heard clearly the wishes of the people in this regard.
Universal suffrage for the 2017 election is within reach if discussions on constitutional development are carried out within the framework of the Basic Law and the Standing Committee decision. Within that framework, through exploring the detailed procedures for nominating chief executive candidates, we believe that a fair, just, transparent and competitive election may be designed to allow five million eligible voters to exercise their right under the Basic Law to directly elect the chief executive they support through “one person, one vote”.
Although universal suffrage may not be a panacea for all social problems, it does have a profound bearing on the democratic development and governance of a place. If we seize this opportunity, it will be a momentous stride for Hong Kong’s democratic development. By resolving a major political issue that has plagued the city for years, we can then focus our efforts on economic development and improving people’s livelihood.
If, however, this opportunity is cast aside, we will not only end up with a political system in gridlock, but also see even more political arguments and division in society that will affect governance, irrespective of who will become the next chief executive, causing further disturbance to society as a whole.
There are concerns that the method for selecting the chief executive in 2017 in accordance with the Standing Committee decision would be final, and does not allow future refinement or improvement. For that, we can refer to remarks by Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the NPC Standing Committee, at a briefing last September, when he pointed out that the basic principle for the selection method under Article 45 of the Basic Law remains the same – that is, the method shall be developed in light of the actual situation in Hong Kong and progress in a gradual and orderly manner.
The “five-step process” of constitutional development still applies. Therefore, the universal suffrage method adopted for 2017 is not final. Once we can take this important step, the system will be rooted in Hong Kong, and its details can be improved continuously in future, in step with changes in the community.
Those who care about constitutional development should look beyond universal suffrage for the chief executive election and turn their sights to universal suffrage for Legco as well.
According to the relevant NPC Standing Committee decision, all members of Legco may be returned by universal suffrage only after the chief executive is elected in this way. Thus, voting down the proposal for the 2017 election will also preclude a Legco fully returned by universal suffrage in 2020. In other words, universal suffrage will not materialise for the chief executive election until 2022 at the earliest, and even later for Legco. I believe this is the last thing we want to see.
The choice before our five million eligible voters is quite obvious.
The first two steps of the process have been completed; the next is for the government to propose a specific method for selecting the chief executive and seek the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of lawmakers. If the proposal is adopted, Hong Kong people will have “one person, one vote” in 2017, and all Legco members may be returned by universal suffrage in 2020. If the proposals are rejected, the method for selecting the chief executive in 2012 shall continue to apply in 2017. No one can tell when discussions to implement universal suffrage could be restarted.
Changes to the political system have everything to do with people’s livelihood. With universal suffrage, every chief executive candidate must face the seven million people of Hong Kong, explain his or her political platform and mission, and win over the people by addressing their interests and concerns. Governance under a chief executive elected by universal suffrage will give fresh impetus to economic and livelihood policies.
Some lawmakers, political parties and groups have threatened to stage another “non-cooperative movement” or even take some radical action during this second round. The government respects people’s right and freedom of expression but will not tolerate any illegal action. The unlawful occupation that lasted over two months last year has had an impact on Hong Kong’s rule of law, to a certain extent, and also damaged social order. I believe we all cherish the rule of law, which is a core value for Hong Kong’s success, and will not condone radical or unlawful means to fight for democracy.
Once in place, universal suffrage is here to stay. The electoral system can be further refined, and our democratic development can continue to move forward. In the next few months, our constitutional development will come to a defining junction. Allow us to move forward to achieve universal suffrage based on legal principles and from a practical point of view.
Seize the opportunity in 2017: this is what I wish for in the new year.
Carrie Lam is chief secretary in the Hong Kong government