Academics' petition adds pressure on by-elections

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am


Almost 140 academics have signed a petition urging the government not to scrap by-elections.

They say getting rid of by-elections would violate Hongkongers' democratic right to elect their representatives and that there was a lack of support to drop a system that's been effective for the past two decades.

The petition puts more pressure on the government to drop its proposals for filling mid-term vacancies in the Legislative Council.

It comes after the International Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong voiced its opposition to the government plan on Wednesday.

Some legal sector members of the election committee said the government proposals were unconstitutional and were not in accordance with the Basic Law.

By-elections were triggered last year when five pan-democratic lawmakers resigned, claiming the exercise would be a de facto referendum on democracy. However, the government claims they were using a loophole that enabled the abuse of the electoral system and wasted public money.

In the public consultation that ends tomorrow, the government has proposed four options, including giving the seat of a lawmaker who resigns to one of his or her running mates in the previous poll.

The local university academics signed a statement saying: 'We think the resignation of five lawmakers was an action for political expression, to initiate public discussion on constitutional controversies.'

They said the system should remain intact. 'The government should not claim 'abuse of process' or 'loopholes' as an excuse to scrap the by-elections system.'

Sing Ming, an associate professor of social sciences with the University of Science and Technology, said it was uncommon for politicians in overseas countries to abuse the by-election system.

He said that in Britain, only 20 lawmakers had resigned and then run in the ensuing by-elections between 1919 and 1997, while there were only six similar cases in Canada between 1963 and 2008.

'If the by-election system is nothing more than a loophole to be abused, why do other countries not ban it?' Sing said.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a legal scholar at the University of Hong Kong who signed the petition, said imposing candidacy limits based on a person's political expression is not in line with international practice.

And Cheung, who is also a member of the election committee, said the plan could be unconstitutional because arguing by-elections are a loophole or waste of public money are not legitimate reasons to scrap the system.

A spokeswoman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau reiterated that the government had yet to determine a final option for legislation on a system to fill vacancies. She said the government would carefully consider the opinions collected during the consultation and decide whether the proposals should be revised, adding that the final proposals would be in line with the Basic Law.