No consensus on Legco by-elections
Colleen Lee and Tanna Chong
One of four proposals to fix what the government calls a 'loophole' in rules for Legislative Council by-elections garnered the most support in a public consultation, the administration said yesterday. But it also said there was no consensus on how to address this perceived problem.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen declined to reveal the level of support for the options up for discussion, saying only that a proposal to retain by-elections but bar lawmakers who resign their seats standing for office again during the term to which they were elected gained more favour than any other.
'Almost 70 per cent of the submissions indicated the government should amend the law or take measures to prevent abuse of by-elections. But there was no obvious tendency on what should be done exactly,' he said.
Tam was speaking almost three months after the end of a two-month consultation on ways to fill Legco vacancies if councillors resign midterm.
The three other options, numbered 2 to 4 respectively, are: to give the seat to a running mate of the resigning lawmaker in the most recent election; to hold a by-election only if a vacancy is caused by a lawmaker's death or serious illness; and to leave the seat vacant if none of the departing lawmaker's electoral running mates is eligible or willing to serve.
'Options 3 and 4 have the least support, whereas the first option - [holding a] by-election in any event but banning those who voluntarily resign from participating in the election - has more support,' Tam said.
'In terms of percentages, I would suggest that you should wait for our actual report' to be released at the end of this month, he said.
Still, Tam said there was 'no majority view' on any of the four options.
The proposals were introduced after five lawmakers resigned last year to force what they hoped would be a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation. Most parties boycotted the vote and all were re-elected easily.
Wong Yuk-man, one of the five lawmakers who resigned, said no restrictions on by-elections were acceptable. 'The government is depriving citizens of their rights even in the proposal with minimal restrictions,' the People Power lawmaker said.
Wong said the government would try to pass the proposal by early next year, but he vowed to delay this by lodging 1,000 amendments.
Tam stopped short of saying how many of the more than 31,000 respondents wanted the government to maintain the status quo - that is, always holding by-elections to fill midterm vacancies. He did, though, say that banning a resigning lawmaker from standing in by-elections for the remainder of the legislative term 'could be excessive'. He said he would seek legal advice on a suggestion by some legislators that the ban should only last for six months.
Asked if the option that received the most support was in line with the law, Tam said the government would ensure approved measures were legally sound and could survive a judicial review.
The cost in HK$ of the by-election in May last year forced by the resignation of five lawmakers who saw it as a de facto referendum