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Friday, January 30, 2015, 08:55

Officials: Difficult to alter CE threshold after 2017

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Although the mechanism of elections by universal suffrage after 2017 will certainly be open to change, Hong Kong officials believe it will be difficult to alter the majority threshold for Chief Executive (CE) candidates unless parts of the Basic Law are revised.

A resolution adopted by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) — the country’s top legislature — last August, requires that candidates for the post of CE secure endorsement from more than half of all 1,200 members of the Nominating Committee (NC) before the electorate chooses a winner.

In an attempt to garner opposition support, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen confirmed that the government was considering options to ensure that opportunities provided in the Basic Law for revising election methods, would still remain after 2017.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event on Thursday, Tam said the government might read a statement to the Legislative Council (LegCo) on this issue before the vote on the reform package. The government might also state in the motion that election methods could be revised through the five-step process which involves the central government authorities.

The question of how to proceed with further reforms would be handled by the next government, said Tam. These would be based on circumstances affecting Hong Kong at that time, he explained.

But Tam also admitted, that based on his understanding of Beijing’s position, it would be difficult to lower the threshold for candidates if the Basic Law remained unchanged. The principles for majority rule are derived from relevant articles in the Basic Law.

Li Fei, deputy secretary-general of NPCSC and chairman of the HKSAR Basic Law Committee, had explained last August that since the NC exercises its power collectively, the choice of candidates by majority rule would “reflect the collective will of the institution”.

Requiring potential candidates to obtain majority support, Li added, also means they will secure “a certain degree of support from each sector” in the committee. This will, therefore, fulfill the principle of balanced participation and also meet the requirements of different groups in society.

Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who later cited Li’s speech, said it was reasonable to insist that candidates must enjoy such widespread support before the electorate votes.

Lam pledged to make every effort to get the support of the opposition, but the opposition must respect decisions by the top legislature.

Business tycoon Allan Zeman, an adviser of the Our Hong Kong Foundation, said the opposition lawmakers should be responsible for forfeiting the chance of having the Chief Executive elected by 5 million eligible voters if they vote against the electoral reform package.

“If the system is wrong, if it doesn’t work, we can change it in future, but at least we can move forward. If we continue with the same system, we know it doesn’t work. It causes things like ‘Occupy Central’ — which was not good for Hong Kong,” added Zeman.
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