Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Functional constituencies to stay for 2016 Legco poll, government says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 2:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying faced criticism for putting out an "extremely conservative" report on political reform in which he said there was no need to abolish the trade-based functional constituencies in the Legislative Council or its so-called split-voting system.

In his report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, Leung said there was a general consensus in Hong Kong that arrangements for universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 should be concluded first.

"In light of [this], I take the view that … Annex II to the Basic Law concerning the method for forming the [Legislative Council] in 2016 need not be amended," Leung wrote.

Annex II to the Basic Law - the city's quasi-constitution - specifies the method for forming Legco and its procedures for voting on bills and motions.

The split voting system is designed to make it more difficult for bills or motions put forward by legislators to pass. It requires a majority vote from each of the two groups of legislators - those returned by functional constituencies and those returned by direct elections.

In a 2004 ruling, the NPC Standing Committee said functional constituencies should stay and make up half the seats in Legco and that the split voting system should remain intact. Functional constituencies are mainly profession- or trade-based.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen promised to explore ways to broaden the electoral base of the functional constituencies, but the announcement failed to pacify critics.

Dr Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, described the government's move as "extremely conservative" and feared it would anger the opposition pan-democrats and mean defeat for electoral reform proposals in Legco.

"Extending the electoral base of functional constituencies is not good enough," Ma said. "The pan-democrats will not be interested in such an offer. They want to see the functional constituency system abolished."

The government's report on the public consultation for political reform says: "Among about 124,700 written submissions … there are more focusing on giving views regarding the method of selecting the [chief executive] in 2017. Among those that provide views on the method for forming the [legislature] in 2016, there are clearly more views which suggest that the method … could remain unchanged."

Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing described as "deplorable" Leung's failure to recommend changes to the Basic Law regarding the legislative election in 2016.

"Hongkongers have been calling for the scrapping of functional constituencies. How could the government totally ignore the people's voice?" she asked.

Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan said: "We feel [we are] being cheated."

But University of Hong Kong law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said: "The prime task for the government is to get the electoral arrangements for the chief executive poll in 2017 passed. Otherwise, it is academic to talk about amending the Basic Law for the Legco election."

Under the Basic Law, the NPC Standing Committee has the final say on revising election methods for the chief executive and Legco.