Public backing for reform not so clear cut

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 April, 2010, 12:00am

Presenting his 2012 constitutional reform package to lawmakers on Wednesday, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said more than 60 per cent of respondents in the public consultation exercise supported the key elements of the government proposals.

But a closer look at the opinion polls cited by the government report shows measures of public support range widely, depending on how the questions were asked.

And when officials drew conclusions about the public's views on the way forward, they left out some findings that might be considered unfavourable to the government proposal.

The results of telephone surveys conducted by five research organisations - Chinese University's Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, the Hong Kong Research Association, and the One Country Two Systems Research Institute - were published in an appendix accompanying the report.

When asked about their views on functional constituencies, the proportion of respondents saying they should be abolished varied from 36 per cent to 51 per cent across studies. This was cited by Tang in his Legco speech to support his argument that the community had yet to arrive at a consensus on the matter.

Another example was the proportion of people who agreed with the government's proposal that the size of the Election Committee be expanded from 800 to 1,200 - it ranged from 41 per cent to 68 per cent.

Some questions with findings unfavourable to the government's conclusions are mentioned nowhere in the report but can be found by digging through the 121-page appendix.

In the Chinese University survey, conducted in January, 53 per cent of those interviewed said the development of democracy would be too slow under the government proposals. The university also found in December that 53 per cent of respondents thought Hong Kong should insist on fighting for universal suffrage in 2012 despite the government package not recommending this.

Noting the absence of these findings in the report, Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said the government had selectively used figures favourable to its views.

Another missing finding was that 48 per cent of respondents in the University of Hong Kong poll in November said Legco should first discuss whether functional constituencies should be retained or abolished before it voted on the package, compared with 33 per cent who thought the issue should be dealt with after Legco passed it.

A spokeswoman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said that by publishing all relevant poll results in the appendix, it had provided a complete account of the studies taken into consideration.

'We have cited the specific results from polls conducted by universities and research organisations in respect of each of the aspects concerning the chief executive election and Legco formation covered in the consultation document,' she said.

The chief secretary said the government had also conducted its own opinion polls. But the spokeswoman said the results were for the administration's internal reference only.

Neglected finding

Those in one poll who said democracy would develop too slowly under the government proposal: 53%