Thursday, March 10, 2005

How Long Hong Kong's Next Chief Will Serve Is Talk of the Town

By KEITH BRADSHER, The New York Times, March 10, 2005

HONG KONG, March 9 - With Tung Chee-hwa expected to resign as Hong Kong's chief executive on Thursday, the issue provoking the greatest discussion in this Chinese territory is how long his successor might serve - and whether Beijing officials will reinterpret local laws here in deciding.

The Basic Law, the miniconstitution that China drafted for Hong Kong before Britain handed over the colony in 1997, makes clear that Mr. Tung's immediate successor as acting chief executive would be Donald Tsang, the chief secretary and second-ranking official.Hong Kong's Electoral Committee, composed mostly of prominent citizens with close ties to Beijing, would meet this summer to choose a longer-term successor. The panel is expected to name Mr. Tsang, partly because of a dearth of other candidates with enough experience. The difficulty lies in whether Mr. Tsang would then serve a full five-year term, or just the two years remaining in Mr. Tung's current term, which runs until June 30, 2007.

The Basic Law seems to call for a five-year term. Democracy advocates here, many of them lawyers, favor a full term. But Beijing officials have publicly suggested that the next term might be only two years. Mr. Tsang's past as a British colonial civil servant is thought to have hurt him with Beijing. Many Hong Kong lawyers, including those close to Beijing, say the Basic Law is quite clear in saying that when the Electoral Committee chooses a chief executive for any reason, that person will serve a full five years. The law makes no provision for shorter terms or replacement terms. "If you look at the wording, it looks like a new, five-year term," said Daniel R. Fung, an ally of Beijing and former solicitor general here who is chairman of the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority.----------------------

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