Hong Kong needs to keep the very basic right of holding by-elections

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2011, 12:00am


The decision by the SAR government to abolish by-elections in Legco's geographical constituencies is now doubly suspicious. Few other policy decisions and their fast-track U-turns have been reached with such speed, lack of public consultation, and failure to obtain independent legal opinions.

What, or who, caused the secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs to be placed in the original embarrassing role of defending a trumped-up policy practised by no other democracy or mini-democratic system in the world? If it was Stephen Lam Sui-lung himself, he should resign without waiting for further public discussion of his risible policy and subsequent efforts to extricate himself and the government from the hole he had dug.

It appears that the secretary's constitutional (and mainland?) advisers realised that by-elections are a major means through which the electorate passes judgment on the performance of its government. In real democracies, by-elections enable electors to protest peacefully and remind governments that electors' opinions change during the course of a government's term of office. In effect, and in reality in various countries, by-election results often oblige governments to change unpopular policies, and even to lose power.

Here, where a centrally controlled democracy with known winners is the officially desired system, electors cannot be allowed to wield such power.

Instead, electors are permitted, within restricted parameters, to express a viewpoint one day every four years. Now they will not to be allowed to express any change of voting opinion during the subsequent four years. They must accept a losing candidate (or the one who's still alive and willing to take the seat) from that date in the distant past.

Why not simply write a law that informs Legislative Council members - in all types of constituencies - that they cannot stand for re-election in the same seat if they resign it during their term?

Hong Kong needs to keep the very basic right of holding by-elections, which are the best public opinion polls when they are allowed to proceed with full competitive campaigns by differing political groups. Last time round, the government and its Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong allies chickened out of competing with five pan-democrats. They may have sensed they would lose, and should change their policies accordingly. That's how democracy is meant to work.

Barry Girling, Tung Chung