Tang's robust defence of trade seats dismays critics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 April, 2010, 12:00am

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen yesterday fuelled speculation that functional constituencies are to stay indefinitely when he said other jurisdictions enjoyed equal suffrage with a 'one person, two votes' system.

The trade-based seats, with their narrow electorates, effectively give 220,000 voters a second vote other than the one they enjoy in the geographical constituencies.

Tang, once a functional constituency lawmaker himself, was particularly defensive when asked for a clear-cut answer on whether or not they would be abolished. 'At this stage the community has yet to reach a general consensus on this major and critical constitutional issue, and the debate is far from conclusive,' he said. He would recommend the next administration to take up the issue.

Answering lawmakers' questions, he said he would not merely adopt arrangements from other jurisdictions. 'We have always been of the opinion that, with its historical background within the legislature, [the functional constituency] has had a function and made a contribution,' Tang said.

He said that even the US Senate was not universal and equal, referring to the often cited fact that the state of California returns the same number of senators as Wyoming, despite the huge difference in the populations of the two states.

The chief secretary confused a few pan-democrats when he referred to the German parliament, where half the lawmakers are elected through geographical constituencies and half by proportional representation with the whole country as a single constituency.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'We have seen clearly today that government has its own road map, and that road map is to retain the functional constituencies.'

She said the question-and-answer session had come across as a 'mutual admiration society' during which Tang continued to sing the praises of functional constituencies and appointed district councillors.

The Law Society, which believes the functional constituency seats should ultimately be abolished, said the government's proposals for electoral reform in 2012 'fall short of expectations'.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said the electoral proposals did not meet standards laid down by international convention. It was disappointing that the chief secretary had resorted to 'one person, two votes' to distort the definition of universal suffrage, the group said.