Election doomed by its complexity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 March, 1998, 12:00am

About 140,000 privileged voters from 31 sub-sectors are eligible on Thursday to return 588 electors for the Election Committee. The exercise has been billed as a prelude to the Legislative Council elections scheduled for May 25. However, it is evident this obscure nomination procedure is doomed to fail.

The 800-member EC is designated to fill 10 of the 60 seats on offer for the inaugural elections of the Legislative Council of the SAR. The committee is composed of representatives from four sectors, which in turn are divided into 38 sub-sectors, which are mostly already represented in the functional constituencies.

The religious groups have already chosen their 40 nominees to the EC, while another 95 have been returned uncontested from four sub-sectors. Seventy-seven members of the Provisional Legislative Council and the local delegation to National People's Congress are declared ex-officio EC members and do not have to go through any voting procedures.

This has left 963 candidates competing for the leftover of 588 seats, or about 1.6 aspirants for each opening. The figure can hardly be described as competitive.

In the Higher Education sub-sector, 27 hopefuls are vying for 20 seats. Several contestants have pledged, strangely enough, to stay away from politics. Instead, they declared they would concentrate only on matters immediately related to the education profession.

One would expect the successful nominees to bear the interests of the whole society in mind, when they exercise their rights to select 10 future legislators.

A considerable proportion of academia is opposed, on democratic principles, to the idea of functional representation. This mindset has further dampened their desire to cast their ballots.

Others feel offended by the way the four sectors are defined.

Agriculture and Fisheries, for instance, have been given 40 slots, despite the fact they are often dismissed as twilight industries.

In fact, at least two dozen of the 91 designated associations under the Wholesale and Retail sub-sector are related to the poultry and vegetable trade. In this way, they can lay claim to a further 12 seats on the EC. In contrast, the Information Technology sub-sector is only worth 20 places.

In terms of economic value, the Agriculture and Fisheries industry has clearly been dwarfed by the rise of Information Technology. If one is to take the concept of functional representation seriously, the allocation of seats on the EC can be qualified, at best, as either functional misrepresentation or dysfunctional representation.

Officials seem to have given up on trying to arouse public interest in the EC. Last Thursday night, the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs conceded in a radio interview that the authority had refrained from mounting a massive publicity campaign on the April 2 polls, lest it confused the public.

Mr Suen was worried that members of the public, the majority of whom have nothing to do with the EC, may mix up the EC nominations with the May 24 Legco elections. With or without Government publicity, many residents are already at a loss.

The Government last week held a press conference to publicise the logistics and preparations for the EC elections. A reporter admitted afterwards that she could hardly understand how the system was supposed to work. If even those covering the event find the rules and procedures hard to digest, it will be hopeless for the average person.

The Ta Kung Pao is by far the most enthusiastic newspaper, in reporting on the Election Committee polls. The pro-Beijing daily has been churning out positive articles in the run-up to the election exercise. It carried no fewer than seven reports and commentaries on the topic yesterday alone.

But even the Ta Kung Pao has carried a report criticising the polling arrangement for Thursday. The daily cited candidates complaining of too few designated polling stations for individual sub-sectors.

Most of the sub-sector voters are required to cast their ballots at a designated polling station. While government departments have arranged to have their employees shuttled to and from the polling stations, those in the private sector cannot expect the same treatment from their employers. Meanwhile, the mainstream Chinese-language papers have largely ignored the EC stories. The so-called intellectual papers, including Ming Pao, the Economic Journal and Economic Times, yesterday did not bother to report on the approach to the polls.

Ironically, the only EC development considered newsworthy by the papers was the announcement by two candidates of the performing arts sub-sector, radio hosts Albert Cheng King-hon and Peter Lam Yuk-wah, who urged their electors not to vote for them.

So far, the papers are primarily interested in horse-racing style reporting on who is contestingwhich races, and the odds of individual parties and candidates as reflected in opinion surveys.

Remedial measures will have to be worked out in the next eight weeks to prevent the Legco election proper from turning out to be another failure.