'Split voting' and abstentions kill record number of Legco proposals

Monitor says complex rules and growing rate of abstention mean many motions are rejected despite having more backers than opponents

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 4:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 10:36am

The Legislative Council's controversial "split-voting" system caused a record 98 motions to fall in the last session that would otherwise have been approved, a monitoring group said yesterday as it called for the system to be scrapped.

Under split voting, a Legco motion put forward by a lawmaker must be approved by a majority of all lawmakers in both the geographical constituencies, elected by the public at large, and the functional constituencies, largely elected by business sectors and interest groups.

The system means that it is possible that more lawmakers vote "yes" than "no" to a particular motion yet it fails because of abstentions. It does not apply to votes on government motions.

Catholic Monitors revealed the findings on the day pan-democrat Charles Mok saw a motion to invoke Legco's powers to investigate the government's decision on free-to-air television licensing voted down by functional constituency lawmakers despite support from geographical representatives.

The group, which has monitored Legco for two decades, also criticised a growing number of abstentions and missed votes by Beijing-loyalist lawmakers, especially members of the city's largest party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Catholic Monitors member Francis Hui Wai-bun questioned whether the abstentions by DAB members were a way to avoid going against their working-class support base on livelihood issues while not risking their patriotic credentials by backing motions from pan-democrats.

"They have two bosses: they need votes, and at the same time they are a patriotic party," Hui said.

In October last year, a motion by Labour Party lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che calling for the introduction of standard working hours fell when nine DAB members abstained. A week later, Cheung's party colleague Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung's motion calling for universal retirement protection also failed when 11 DAB members abstained.

However, DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung slammed the group's analysis as "subjective, inaccurate and meaningless".

"Every case is different: sometimes our amendments were defeated … and it was problematic to support the motion [as it stood]," Tam said. "Voting stances are based on our understanding of policy issues" rather than the political orientation of its proposer, he added.

Motions introduced by lawmakers are not binding on the government but are seen as a way of putting pressure on it.

Legco voted down 167 of 293 lawmakers' motions in the session that ended in July. Some 98 had the support of a majority of lawmakers who voted. In the previous legislative session, 52 motions fell that way.

Legco grew from 60 to 70 members at elections last year.

The DAB lawmaker who missed votes most often was Chan Han-pan, missing a third of all votes on lawmakers' motions and abstaining in a quarter. The 12 DAB lawmakers abstained on an average of 65 of the 293 votes in the last session, four times the rate in 2011/12.

Abstentions by the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions were up by 34 per cent on the last session, while those by the Democrats fell 19 per cent.


Voted Down: Motions which would have been passed

"Safeguarding the rule of law and judicial independence" on January 10, 2013

"Assisting the middle class" on January 23, 2013

"Facing up to the aspirations of the people participating in the march on 1 July" on July 3, 2013

"Formulating a population policy" on July 3, 2013

"Reviving the quality of local education" on December 20, 2012

Video: Thousands gather at government HQ for more protests against decision to deny HKTV a licence