Universal Suffrage

Seize opportunity for Legco reform

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 4:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 9:11am

The political reform debate has, until now, been dominated by the implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017. The discussion has become so focused that the public can be excused if it does not realise that the Legislative Council is also up for revamp in 2016. Although universal suffrage for the legislature is not due until another six years, and the government has shut the door to major changes in the meantime, the window for fixing some of the long-standing problems remains open. It is important that we seize the opportunity to reform Legco and lay a good foundation for full democracy in 2020.

An overhaul of the electoral system is a good way to start. At present, the 35 directly elected seats are unevenly spread across five geographical constituencies. Since the threshold for securing a seat in a constituency is determined by the number of seats available, victory in bigger constituencies tends to be easier, as in the case in the New Territories. Also, the tickets and candidates are so numerous that getting the campaign message across may become difficult. It makes sense to split bigger constituencies into smaller ones.

Reforms for the functional constituencies are also sorely needed. The trade-based seats make up the other half of Legco; but they have a total electorate of just 232,500, a small fraction of the 3.5 million who can vote in geographical polls. The disproportionate representation across the professions is just as severe. For instance, the biggest sector - education - can be 723 times bigger than the smallest one - the finance sector, which only has 124 electors. Some seats are also restricted to corporate rather than individual voting. Their elected representatives are notorious for putting sectoral interest above the public good. It is difficult to see how such an unfair electoral system could survive as we switch to universal suffrage in 2020. Meanwhile, the government should explore ways to make functional constituencies less unequal. This includes substantially broadening the electoral base, and replacing corporate votes with individual votes. Ultimately, the seats should be abolished.

Four years ago, we managed to expand Legco by adding 10 seats returned by one person, one vote. In line with the Basic Law requirement of gradual and orderly progress, the legislature should be further democratised. As we prepare for universal suffrage for the chief executive, we should also strive to improve the electoral arrangements for the legislature.