Fears of rush job on district council seats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 June, 2011, 12:00am

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Pan-democrat legislators fear the government may be about to rush through another constitutional amendment - to scrap appointed seats on district councils.

While the camp want the seats, which are filled by government appointees, abolished, some say the administration is trying to bring in the measure too quickly.

The proposed timetable, disclosed yesterday, left too little time for proper public discussion, Democrat Cheung Man-kwong said.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung told the Legislative Council the government would submit by November a proposal to abolish the 405 seats for the second time - they were wiped out by the colonial government in 1994, in reforms that infuriated Beijing, and restored in 1998.

But he gave no timetable for their abolition, something promised by chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen during his struggle to win backing for electoral reforms a year ago. This angered another pan-democrat, Lee Cheuk-yan.

'The district council appointment system is an illegal political structure added in 1998,' said Lee, drawing an analogy with the current row over the widespread illegal additions to properties. 'If the government knows illegal structures in buildings have to be removed as soon as possible, how can a political add-on stay after [more than] 10 years?'

Lam said abolishing the seats was not a priority for the government, which he said was busy with more important tasks, including legislation to prevent Legco vacancies being filled through by-elections.

'The abolition ... does not bear a direct relation to the attainment of ... universal suffrage. We are considering an amendment bill to deal with the replacement mechanism when legislative ... vacancies arise.'

He was referring to a proposal to fill midterm Legco vacancies with the next-in-line candidates from the previous election - intended to avoid a repeat of by-elections last year that candidates sought to portray as a referendum on democratisation.

The abolition proposal was tabled just a month after the administration announced its intention to do so - a pace some lawmakers called abrupt. 'I believe it will be another rude legislative process,' Cheung said.

'As the next council term starts in January, there is no time for public discussion of whatever proposal the government raises.'