Motion Debate on "Direct Elections"
Mr. Eric Li: Madam President, many people tend to take it for granted that Legislative Council Members returned by functional constituencies will necessarily oppose the introduction of full-scale direct elections. If Honourable Members should really think that way, I would say that they are indeed very cocksure.
Undoubtedly, when Honourable Members returned by functional constituencies consider this issue, they will lay more stress on the practical implications; they will consider how much time and what procedures are required to amend the Basic Law, and they will therefore ask whether the whole thing can at all be completed during the very short time before 2000. Besides, they will consider the consequences of amending the Basic Law. Specifically, they will ask whether this will lead to many more requests for amendments from those who are not satisfied with the Basic Law.
I think professionals will all consider the following questions. If full-scale direct elections are to be introduced and all functional constituencies Members of this Council are to be replaced by directly elected Members, can the Members returned by direct elections at this stage grasp or reflect those technical issues which are relatively more sophisticated? Can these directly elected Members handle issues relating to the social functions and responsibilities of professionals and indeed safeguard these very functions and responsibilities in a fair manner? Professionals are likely to be sceptical, and may thus continue to hold in reservations any quickening of the pace of democratization.
The attitude of professionals towards direct elections can in fact be discerned from past records. In 1987, the accounting sector conducted a full-scale survey; and the findings indicated that 73% of the members of the Hong Kong Society of Accountants wanted to have directly elected elements in the legislature, but at the same time, 99% of these members also hoped that the accountancy functional constituency could be retained. These findings show that at the time of the survey, while the accountancy sector was unequivocal in its democratic aspirations, it was nonetheless sceptical about the idea of replacing professional functional constituency elections with direct elections.
A year later, in 1988, I was given the opportunity to assist the Basic Law Sub-group of the Hong Kong Society of Accountants in drafting the proposals of the accountancy sector on the future developments of our political reforms. At that time, I advised that eventually in the future, both the legislature and the Chief Executive should be returned by direct elections. As we all know now, the drafters of the Basic Law subsequently changed their stand, and this advice of mine was finally written into the Basic Law. At that time, I reasoned that in view of the ever-increasing civic-mindedness of our community, the Basic Law should provide for an objective and measurable mechanism which could enable us to introduce full-scale direct elections as soon as the moment was right. This is my tentative proposal at that time: In any territory-wide direct election, if the turnout rate can reach the trigger point of 50%, full-scale direct elections can be introduced for the following term of the legislature.
Unfortunately, my proposal was rejected by my pro-democracy colleagues in this Council, who viewed that such a trigger point was simply unattainable. However, very much unexpectedly, 10 years later, in 1998, our turnout rate has really attained the 53% mark. Had the Basic Law Drafting Committee accepted the proposal of the accountancy sector years back, we would not have to conduct any motion debate on this issue now.
Many of the political figures involved in the drafting of the Basic Law years back all underestimated the civic-mindedness of the Hong Kong people, and they failed to foresee that it could be raised to such a high level within a matter of 10 years only. However, I personally think that this rise in civic-mindedness is indeed very encouraging. It is very much a pity that the Basic Law drafters eventually decide to drop the idea of a more objective "trigger point" and adopt a fixed and therefore relatively inflexible timetable instead. Personally, I still believe in the adoption of an objective mechanism, and I also recognize the positive political implications of the high turnout rate in the recent election. However, if we want to re-open the case now, we will inevitably have to amend the Basic Law, which is now so widely accepted by the community at large, including the accountancy sector. What is more, such a move will also lead to many complicated problems and create immense anxieties.
I am now a representative of the accountancy sector on this Council. That is why when it comes to some important issues, I no longer enjoy the privilege of speaking whatever I like, and I am not supposed to advocate any changes lightly. Instead, I must reflected and represent the views of the accountancy sector, not least because the motion requires the sector to give up its own functional constituency seat, which has been playing such an important role. This is indeed a very significant issue which I must handle in the most cautious and professional manner. When I made the aforesaid proposal a decade or so ago, there were only some 4000 accountants in Hong Kong, but there are as many as 14000 now. Besides, an amendment of the Basic Law will involve many complicated technicalities, and as far as I can notice, accountants will generally prefer stability and the rule of law more than anything else. That being the case, I believe that any attempt to amend the Basic Law at this stage will probably by deemed unnecessary by some accountants.
For all those reasons which I have just given, I think that I really should conduct an in-depth and extensive consultation exercise on this issue before I can reach any conclusion which is bot objective and professionally sound. I know only too well that the abolition or otherwise of functional constituencies in our political system is an issue which we must tackle before 2007. I also know that if we are to grasp the views of the functional sectors, we should make some early preparations - and, the earlier, the better, I must add. When I commented on the Chief Executive¡¦s policy address last year, I advised that we should draw up a tentative blueprint for our political development and work out the procedures and timetable as soon as possible. I said at that time that we should start as soon as possible because reforms of this nature would usually take more than 10 years to complete, and that, I must say, is a long time.
For that reason, I have already approached the Hong Kong Society of Accountants, and arrangements have been made for me to publish an article in the next issue of the Society¡¦s bimonthly newsletter. In this article, I will announce to all accountants in Hong Kong that I will conduct a comprehensive and in-depth consultation exercise to gauge the views of the accountancy sector on this issue. Therefore, at this stage, I would think that the amendment proposed by Mr. Gray CHENG should be preferred, because it can best enable the various functional sectors to conduct open and systematic consultations without any pre-determined conditions before we make the best possible decision. I also call upon Honourable Members belonging to other functional sectors to make early preparations, so as to discharge their responsibilities towards the community and their constituents.
Before the emergence of any definite survey findings which can convince me that the status quo should be changed, I will vote on this issue according to the principle of according priority to the maintenance of the status quo.
With these remarks, Madam President, I support the amendment by Mr. Gary CHENG.