Are 'super seats' headed for the history books?
In the third of our four-part series on reform for the 2016 Legco election, we look at the five lawmakers elected by city-wide ballot
Jeffie Lam and Tony Cheung
Created in a last-minute compromise to save the city's last round of political reforms, the so-called super seats may be consigned to the history books by the time the next Legislative Council is elected in 2016.
The fate of the five district council (second) functional seats - elected by 3.2 million voters who do not get a vote in any other functional constituency - is one of many issues being debated as part of a consultation on reform ahead of the 2016 poll.
Pan-democrats, including super-seat lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, said the seats go against their aim of having all functional constituencies abolished by 2020. And Beijing-loyalist heavyweight Chan Yuen-han, who also holds one of the super seats, said she "did not mind" seeing them abolished.
Besides the political arguments, there are practical concerns: how can a lawmaker represent the whole city with the same resources as a legislator in one of the five geographical seats?
The creation of the seats was suggested by the Democratic Party and agreed by the central and local governments in 2010, along with the addition of five seats in geographical constituencies. The decision split the pan-democrats, with some parties angry that only district councillors could nominate candidates.
But Ho said the seats had fulfilled their "historical mission" of opening the way for extra geographical seats.
"It was an important [change] because without those seats, some pan-democrats might not be able to enter Legco," Ho said.
Chan would not be drawn on the "historical mission" and said the 2017 election for chief executive was a more important aspect of the reform consultation.
"I don't mind abolishing [the super seats] … It wasn't a problem for me, but there are just too many questions to discuss," the Federation of Trade Unions veteran said.
The pair were elected along with Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and Ho's fellow Democrat James To Kun-sun, who topped the poll with 316,500 votes. The final lawmaker, Frederick Fung Kin-kee, won 228,800 votes.
Fung has not yet taken a stance on whether the seats should be abolished. One thing he is sure of, however, is that being a "super lawmaker" is far tougher than representing his old West Kowloon constituency.
"I received cases from Ma Wan - of the New Territories West district - just after three days of the election," said Fung.
Making matters tougher is that while Chan, Ho, To and Lee represent big parties, Fung is the only lawmaker from the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood.
"Super lawmakers" receive the same funding to run their offices as other lawmakers - a sum that has increased from HK$1.7 million per year in 2012 to more than HK$2.2 million this year.
"I could manage to employ only two extra staff but have to handle over 6,000 enquiries per month - 10 per cent more than before," he said.
He has innovated by allowing the public to contact him via social media and by working with individual district councillors.
"Working with them - they have extensive networks in their districts - will trigger a synergy effect," he said.
Chan agreed that "super lawmakers" need more support.
"This job has allowed me to see and work on many more issues that I didn't really touch on in the past [as a Kowloon East lawmaker]," she said. "The problem is that many people wanted me to start district offices … but I don't have the resources."
Tomorrow: the fight for the future of functional constituencies