Many people are debating whether Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will seek another term in 2002, but I wish to focus on an even more important question: who will elect the next chief executive?
My reading of the Basic Law is that the same Election Committee that chose six of my colleagues in this new Legislative Council will elect the new chief executive in 2002.
This might come as a shock to many people in Hong Kong, for the Government has yet to announce whether the next chief executive will be elected by the same Election Committee constituted in July, or by another Election Committee to be constituted later on.
And yet, according to the Basic Law, the answer is crystal clear. Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law plainly provide that the same Election Committee will not only elect six members of this new legislature but also the chief executive in 2002.
Before the election of the 800 members of the Election Committee in July, I told government officials they were duty-bound to inform the voters that the 800 Election Committee members they were electing would be responsible for choosing not only six members of the Legislative Council in September, but also the chief executive in 2002. My suggestion was not taken up, and no convincing reason was given.
Surely at some time between now and 2002, the Government will have to announce to the public that the Election Committee elected by the people of Hong Kong in July will, according to the Basic Law, elect the chief executive in 2002.
And if one were to ask: 'But why did you not tell us before these 800 people were elected so I, too, could seek a seat in such election?' The likely answer would be: 'But the Basic Law is very clear about that. Didn't you know already?'
There is a certain element of deja vu about this. In a recent television interview, Mr Tung told viewers his policy of building 85,000 residential units per year had been discarded two years previously. 'Didn't you know already?' he asked.
To this, the only reply for many people would be: 'But how could we know?' After all, when the Government advertised the Election Committee election, it mentioned only that these 800 people would elect six members of the Legislative Council in September 2000.
Supposing just one disgruntled voter takes the matter to the courts, the Government will find itself in a bind. That voter would argue that if the Government had done the right thing by announcing the dual function of the Election Committee prior to it being constituted in July 2000, he would have stood for election. And if he had won a seat on the Election Committee, he would then have the power to elect the chief executive in 2002.
The Government could not, even if it wanted to, constitute a new Election Committee, for that would be contrary to the Basic Law. Nor could it stick to the existing Election Committee, for the court might hold that the Government could not, after the fact, confer a new electoral power on the 800 members of the Election Committee.
I am afraid Hong Kong will become the laughing stock of the world. Where could you find another government that asks its people to go through an electoral process without telling them in advance exactly what the victors' responsibilities will be?
There is only one honourable way out of this mess, and that is to amend the Basic Law so the next chief executive is democratically elected in 2002. This would be in keeping with the sentiment of the majority of people in Hong Kong, who for years have expressed a clear preference for having their chief executive elected democratically rather than by a small circle of people, the great majority of whom are under the influence, if not outright control, of Beijing.
There is another advantage in adopting this proposal. We can show our compatriots in Taiwan - who have recently elected their president on the basis of one person, one vote - that Hong Kong, too, will have democracy. This way, we could assure our Taiwanese compatriots that the policy of 'one country, two systems' is working well in Hong Kong. Hopefully, then, they could be persuaded to return to the fold.