Scepticism remains over electoral reform consultation process

While chief secretary promises that all public submissions on electoral reform will be treated with 'sincerity', others call for a clearer picture

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 11:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 4:35am

Despite high-level assurances that all the views gathered during the public consultation on the city’s democratic future will be handled with “sincerity”, scepticism remains over how those in charge will come up with a fair and coherent end product and the conclusion of the five-month process.

Criticism of the way previous mass expressions of public opinion on constitutional change were handled by the government indicate a rethink may be required, but signals from the woman in charge of what must be one of the most tricky political challenges Hong Kong has ever faced – suggest Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is likely to come under fire over how a mountain of diverse views will distilled into a final – and fair – set of recommendations.

“We will faithfully reflect all the views that we have received,” Lam said at a press briefing to launch the brightly-coloured consultation document on Wednesday: “I hope we can convince members of the public that we have every sincerity to conduct this round of consultations.”

Lam’s soothing words failed to assuage Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan who urged the government to make clear the details of its methodology in categorising and quantifying the public submissions it will receive.

More than 100,000 submissions are expected by the end of consultation on May 3 next year, according to the three-member reform taskforce – led by Lam alongside Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen.

“The government must clarify how which formats of reply from whom would be counted, and how to determine the weighting of the responses,” said Ho. She said previous electoral reform consultations had adopted a confusing system for accepting different forms of public response.

“The government must clarify how which formats of reply from whom would be counted, and how to determine the weighting of the responses.”
Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan

The 2002 consultation for Basic Law Article 23 national security legislation was criticised for skewing public opinion because the government lowered the weighting of submissions carrying multiple signatures but counted standardised replies as individual submissions.

“The government is utilising social media in this consultation so it was good for them to declare ‘likes’ and simple comments would not count. But would other online messages carry the same weight as a formal mail submission?” asked Ho.

Poly University social scientist Dr Chung Kim-wah said the government must get its methodology right to avoid the risk of being manipulated by different political camps.

“It is a high threshold for average laymen to discuss complicated electoral plan details, so it would be likely for the more informed parties to mobilise individuals to make submissions based on prepared templates,” said Chung. “The government has to make it clear whether or not standardised replies would be grouped or counted individually.”

Chung advised the government to commission a large-scale opinion poll to get a clearer picture of the public views.

But previous experiences of government-commissioned polling faced criticism over sampling methods and misleading questions.

In 2007, the government came under fire for its over-reliance on opinion polls conducted by organisations with questionable credentials.

University of Hong Kong pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu criticised the polls cited by the government, conducted by the Hong Kong Research Association, for using unrecognised methods.

The government’s Survey Office was condemned for manipulating public opinions as the survey it commissioned private agency AGB McNair to conduct came up with the exact opposite results of numerous polls carried out by non-governmental organisations.




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