May 30 , 2010
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As the hot summer months start to take hold, there is another hot issue that we will also be contending with, and that is, the future of Hong Kong's constitutional development.
In a few weeks' time, before the summer recess, the Legislative Council will decide on the constitutional reform package for the 2012 Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections.
The run-up to the vote will undoubtedly result in some heated political debate. Different political groups, as well as individuals, have been trying to convince the public that their vision for Hong Kong's political future represents the best way forward.
This is something that we should all be proud of. Hong Kong is a pluralistic society. Everyone is entitled to his or her own views, and to defend them when challenged. This is typical of the discussions that we have had on political development over the past two decades.
But there comes a time when we need to bridge our differences to forge consensus for the overall benefit of Hong Kong.
Now is such a time. Now is the time to act.
Our constitutional design is such that we must have a two-thirds majority in LegCo - that is, 40 of the 60 seats - in order to amend the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and electing the legislature.
This is no easy task.
In 2005, while we obtained an absolute majority of LegCo votes, we failed to secure the 66% threshold needed to pass a reform package that had a support rate of some 60% of the public.
This year we face a similar situation. In most opinion polls, the Government's reform package enjoys majority support in the community. But, so far we have not secured sufficient votes among legislators required to approve the package.
There has been much debate about the reform package so I shall not repeat or rebut those arguments again.
Rather, I'd like to clear a few myths to help everyone better understand the issue.
The first myth is that the Government does not want full democracy for Hong Kong, and the current reform package is regressive.
I don't want there to be any doubts about my government's commitment to advancing democracy in Hong Kong.
In 2007, at the behest of myself and others, the Central Government made a landmark decision that Hong Kong may implement universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and for the Legislative Council in 2020. Since then, my top priority has been to make this happen.
That is why I am so eager to see progress in our constitutional system in 2012.
This will be the first step - as well as our last opportunity - to lay the foundations for a Chief Executive elected by universal suffrage in 2017.
The current package is a vital step forward towards greater democracy and indeed universal suffrage, even though some may feel that the step is not big enough.
We propose to increase by five, the number of LegCo seats returned by geographical constituencies.
The Central Government's 2007 decision states that any increase in geographical constituencies requires a corresponding increase in functional constituency seats.
So, we are proposing that five new functional constituency seats be returned by elected District Council members.
This is the most democratic form of indirect election we can design within the confines of the 2007 decision of the Central Government.
More importantly, it also effectively prevents any future increase in the number of conventional FC seats representing specific sectors or interest groups.
Some have said that these proposals are a far cry from full democracy. That is true.
Indeed, they are interim arrangements. But these interim arrangements will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of universal suffrage.
They bring us closer because, first of all, the package is a step forward towards that goal.
More important, they bring us closer because passage of the reform package will represent the first time in Hong Kong's political history when constitutional change under the Basic Law has been triggered and enabled through compromise by various camps in LegCo.
We shall need the same resolve again when we tackle the 2017 universal suffrage arrangements a few years down the road.
The second myth is that it makes little difference whether the package is passed or not.
Let's not be mistaken - it makes a great deal of difference. We have much to lose if we cannot effect any change this time around.
At stake is not just a set of more democratic arrangements for the 2012 Chief Executive and LegCo elections.
At stake is also our ability and confidence to reach a consensus for universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020. If we do not see progress this time, I fear that a mood of pessimism and cynicism will take root.
But, if we can make it, Hong Kong politics will advance to a new level. We will have proved that politics is not just about partisanship, demagogue and endless polemics, that dialogue, co-operation and pragmatism can prevail, and that good politics can play a constructive role in the development of society.
The third myth is that political development has nothing to do with ordinary citizens, so whether we can make constitutional advancement is irrelevant to them.
But, the fact is none of us can escape politics. Political challenges consume much of society's energy and resources, as we have seen in Hong Kong over these past two decades.
Good politics can effectively tackle problems and resolve differences in society.
I believe the passage of our reform package will create a better political system and environment, which we all deserve, and from which we will all benefit.
And because the stakes are so high, we should not give up easily. We should not be daunted by the great difficulty of this exercise.
My administration will be doing whatever we can to promote our package because we believe it's a good package. We will be lobbying our legislators hard for their support.
Yesterday, we launched a community-wide campaign with the theme "Act Now".
It is, in effect, a call to action. Our constitutional system has been stagnant for too long. It is time to move forward.
It is also time for those who care about our constitutional progress to break their silence and to take a stand. Tell your legislators. Post a letter. Write an e-mail. Make a phone call. It all counts. It can all make a difference.
Our campaign slogan also stresses the time element. It is time for action now - not later. We must act now before the opportunity for progress once again slips through our fingers.
The Chinese slogan for the campaign is "起錨", which means "anchors aweigh". It's a popular colloquial term that carries a similar meaning to the English slogan - it means it is time to move on and to start a new journey.
My political team and I are all geared up.
These days, we are going directly into the community to explain to people the significance of constitutional reform.
We are trying different ways to get this message across, from handing out flyers on the streets to inviting a legislator to an open, televised debate.
Some of my friends have questioned whether these actions are a proportionate measure because the chances remain slim for the passage of the reform package, given the stance of certain political parties.
But let's opt for a bold and disproportionate approach if our cause is worth fighting for.
I have no doubt that Hong Kong, which I have served for more than 40 years, is worth fighting for; Hong Kong people are worth fighting for.
That is why we will continue to push for constitutional reform despite all the constraints and difficulties. Our package is worth fighting for and I know that if we succeed, Hong Kong will be a better place.
| Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,