Legco vacancy scheme questioned

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2011, 12:00am


Fresh doubts have been raised about the government's controversial plan to scrap by-elections and fill mid-term vacancies in the Legislative Council by installing the next best-placed candidate.

Local and overseas electoral experts questioned if the system - in which the next candidate with the highest number of votes will take over - have warned that some parties may lose their position in Legco if their representatives died in office.

Magnus Smidak, research and information officer of Britain's respected Electoral Reform Society, said in countries which have a system of proportional representation it was common for vacancies to be filled by the next-in-line candidate on their specific list. Under the government's proposal, announced on Tuesday, a seat held by a small party would automatically go to another party if its representative resigned or died and the small party would lose its presence in the legislature, Smidak said.

Founded in 1884, the London-based group is believed to be the oldest organisation of its kind.

In the Hong Kong plan which takes effect next year - covering geographical constituencies and the forthcoming five new district council seats - a vacant Legco seat as a result of the resignation or death of a legislator would be filled by the runner-up in the previous election.

Candidates in geographical constituencies need a certain number of votes to be elected; when several candidates run on the same list, those ranked low on the slate miss out because the remaining votes are insufficient to earn them a seat.

Observers worry this could lead to some unusual consequences. For instance, in the case of Ma Lik, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong who died in 2007, the Beijing-friendly party would lose one of its two seats in Hong Kong Island.

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who was the runner-up with 14,829 votes at his election in 2004 - and a pan-democrat - would have taken the vacant seat.

The DAB, which held two seats in Hong Kong Island after clinching 74,659 votes, would have ended up with just one seat in the constituency.

Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University, said the government proposal aimed at preventing lawmakers using by-elections to trigger what they see as a 'referendum' and chose to play down the fact that it would unfairly undermine the representation of parties if lawmakers died or resigned during their tenure.

In January last year, five Civic Party and League of Social Democrats lawmakers resigned to trigger by-elections they hoped would be a de facto referendum on political reform. But the other parties put up no candidates, and all five were voted back into office last May.

Smidak said voters may have voted for a specific party list because they just preferred that party. 'It might be considered unfair to them if, thanks to a mid-term vacancy, a rival party they don't like gains a seat.

'I'm not sure what would happen if there are a large number of vacancies. What happens if a new vacancy arises and there are no more parties with remainder votes for instance?'