Public being bypassed on by-elections, poll chief says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2011, 12:00am


The change in the way the government proposes to fill midterm vacancies in the Legislative Council without by-elections has swayed some people's opinions but still doesn't take account of the public's views, a pollster says.

Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, was commenting after a poll found that support for an elimination of by-elections increased after the revised proposal was announced. This would allow a running mate of the departing lawmaker to take the seat instead of the next-placed candidate overall.

'The government's revision did help to win some people over, but the preference for by-elections is still the majority view across all three scenarios [death, disqualification and resignation],' said Chung, whose programme was conducting the two-day poll when the government announced the change.

'The change in opinion is biggest for the third scenario, voluntary resignation' he said. 'But even then, preference for a by-election still stood at 51 per cent on day two against 40 per cent for other replacement mechanisms,' he said.

Noting that respondents still preferred the original proposal to the revised one, he said the results showed the government was not acting according to public opinion.

The survey also found 58 per cent of respondents considered that the law should prohibit resigning lawmakers from standing in a by-election in the same term, while 29 per cent said they should be allowed to run again - as five legislators from the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats did last year. 'From our survey, it seems people do not like to see legislators resign and then get re-elected again,' Chung said. 'It seems to me a simple [amendment] which prohibits incumbent councillors joining the same council twice in one single term would do the trick.'

While the government did not always need to follow public opinion, it should at least show it knew what the public wanted and explain why it preferred to go against it, he said.

'In this present case, the government has deliberately bypassed public opinion because it refuses to conduct public consultation on this very important constitutional issue. From the government's twists and turns, I doubt very much whether it actually knows what the public wants.'

Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, who opposes the bill, said the public had shown a clear will to defend the right to elect. She said: 'The poll did not even ask about the complexities of the government proposal ... which will bring even more disputes. The government is acting against people's rational thinking.

'I hope it will change its mind and withdraw the bill.'

Wong Kwok-kin, vice-president of the Beijing-loyal Federation of Trade Unions, which had vowed to vote for the bill, was surprised that respondents had indicated a preference for the government's original proposal over the revised one.

'All academics who have spoken on the proposal said it would be more reasonable for a candidate on the same ticket as the departing lawmaker to take over. Perhaps the general public doesn't understand how the proportional representation system works,' he said.