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`Gilding the lily'

Staff reporters

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

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The demand by moderate democrats that district council trade seats under the reform package be put to a popular vote was described yesterday by a senior mainland official as an unnecessary addition to something already intact.

Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong director- general of publicity, culture and sports Hao Tiechuan used the idiom "gilding the lily" to reject the request.

His remarks came as the political situation over local constitutional reforms is at a stalemate.

They also come a week after National People's Congress Standing Committee deputy secretary- general Qiao Xiaoyang, in a speech from Beijing, indirectly rejected the demand by the Democratic Party and the Alliance for Universal Suffrage.

Qiao said there are views in Hong Kong society that allowing the masses to directly choose some functional constituency lawmakers in 2012 will amount to de facto direct elections and raise doubts as to whether this is in line with the Basic Law and the NPC Standing Committee's decision.

At a tea gathering yesterday, Hao said there is no precedent for the moderate democrats' proposal. It has no legal basis and is unnecessary, he said.

Under the government proposal, the five new functional constituency seats and the existing district council Legco trade seats will be elected by district councillors.

Hao said the proposal is based on public opinion while the Democratic Party is merely "gilding the lily." He emphasized this further by adding the Putonghua equivalent - "adding feet to a drawing of a snake." He said be it direct or indirect elections, both demonstrated a form of universal suffrage.

Hao said doubts as to whether there will be genuine universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive and 2020 Legco elections are merely imaginary.

Observing that it took several hundred years for many Western countries to successfully adopt universal suffrage, Hao said that by comparison, Hong Kong people will be able to elect lawmakers by universal suffrage just 23 years after the handover.

He said those who doubt Beijing's sincerity about implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong should first ask themselves the reasons behind such suspicions.

Asked whether functional constituencies should be scrapped, Hao said society is still divided over the issue and until a consensus is reached locally the central government could not state its stance.

Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan retorted it is the SAR government that is "gilding the lily" by insisting on functional constituencies and indirect elections.


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