«Letter to Hong Kong» the Chief Executive

January 13, 2008

Political reform, let's get the job done

Fellow citizens,

Much has been said and written over these past two weeks about political reform in Hong Kong.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has explained the rationale for its decision - why universal suffrage for the Chief Executive may be implemented in 2017, and why universal suffrage may follow in 2020 for the Legislative Council. I believe most people accept the decision, as well as the need to take the gradual and orderly approach as spelt out in the Basic Law.

Some are naturally disappointed that we cannot achieve universal suffrage for both the Chief Executive and LegCo in 2012. I understand their disappointment, and I respect them for their commitment to reach this goal as early as possible. But, now that a timetable has been set, I hope everyone will be able to focus on what is possible, rather than what is not.

For the first time, Hong Kong has a clear timetable for achieving universal suffrage in both the Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections. This is a historic opportunity. We should embrace it. At the same time, we should also understand that this opportunity carries enormous responsibility.

The Central Government has placed its trust in us to make progress for the Chief Executive and LegCo elections in 2012. We need to achieve this milestone. It's crunch time for everyone involved in our political development. It's never been a question of whether, it's no longer a question of when - it's now a question of 'how'. And if we can't make progress in 2012 it will not only be a great disservice to the people of Hong Kong, it will also be a great disservice to our country. We’ve got our wish for a timetable - now it's up to us to fill in the blanks.

Over the next few months, we'll start the hard work of devising ways in which to boost democratic participation for the 2012 elections for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council. This is the foundation on which universal suffrage will be built.

Obviously, political parties will be involved. And obviously there will have to be some give and take as we hammer out the details. But if we all approach this matter candidly, calmly, rationally and pragmatically, I am sure we can forge a consensus that is broadly acceptable to most in Hong Kong. Indeed, this is our obligation to the community.

Political parties will also have to think more about the long term. They will need to start putting in place their own frameworks that support a LegCo returned by universal suffrage. That means nurturing more talent, and giving younger people more opportunities to participate in the political arena. It means bringing in new ideas and fresh thinking. And it will mean greater efforts to provide constructive policy alternatives. Think tanks and other research organisations will be able to help in this regard.

The business sector will also need to become more engaged. Any doubts about the possible timing of universal suffrage have now been dispelled. The business community will need to make a more systematic approach to politics, whether that be through the party system, existing professional or trade groups, or by even sponsoring think tanks. The business sector contributes much to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, and has much to offer in the way of advice and experience. But as our political system advances and matures, the business sector will have to follow suit because public expectations will undoubtedly increase as the years go by, and as we get closer to our goals of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and the legislature.

As you know, I've often said that political progress in Hong Kong is about building trust - trust between the executive branch and LegCo; trust between the Government and the people of Hong Kong; trust between the HKSAR and the Central Authorities. Building trust takes much time and effort, and can be easily shattered. The most vital ingredient is sincerity. Sincerity to listen to different views; to be open to new possibilities; to find common ground; to do what's best for most in the long run. It is my sincere wish that we make progress in 2012. I know that it is also the sincere wish of the Central Government. I am certain that Hong Kong people want to see progress as well.

You might remember that in 2005 we did try to enhance the democratic elements of the election of the Chief Executive in 2007 and for LegCo in 2008. Even though we had majority support in LegCo, we couldn't secure the two-thirds majority required by the Basic Law. This was an opportunity lost for Hong Kong - it was a chance to take a step forward on the road to universal suffrage. Unfortunately, all we managed to do was stand on the spot. We made no progress at all. This is not what Hong Kong people wanted - they wanted progress.

Now, we have another chance for progress; another chance to build trust amongst all sectors; and, another chance to take us one step closer to our goal. I hope that we will all be able to work together to devise new arrangements for 2012 - arrangements that will also serve as an important and vital step on our road to universal suffrage.


  Donald TSANG Yam-kuen  
Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,
Chief Executive