Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Government says there is room for change in how lawmakers are elected

Government's decision not to ask for alterations to the Basic Law on the composition of the legislature does not mean reform is off the agenda

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 6:20am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

Allowing more people to vote for functional constituency lawmakers and reorganising some Legislative Council constituencies are among the ideas the government is considering to make the legislature more democratic at the 2016 election.

The changes were mooted by the constitutional affairs minister despite the government saying in a report to Beijing on electoral reform last week that there was no need to alter the Basic Law in relation to the legislature.

While the mini-constitution sets out the number of seats in the legislature and its voting procedures, it does not detail how lawmakers are elected.

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the government would put a proposal for reform of Legco out to consultation before the end of this year. The government is expected to reveal its proposal for a democratic election for chief executive - the main focus of last week's report to Beijing - at about the same time.

"[We can see] if it is possible to expand the base electorate of some functional constituencies," Tam said. "We also received some views [in an earlier consultation] that some functional constituencies can be merged and some can be scrapped."

One possibility Tam raised was splitting up two of the five geographical constituencies, New Territories West and New Territories East. The two seats have about twice as many voters and lawmakers as Kowloon West.

Leung was criticised for the conservatism of his report to Beijing, which leaves intact the functional constituencies despite Beijing's promise of a Legco elected by universal suffrage in 2020. And analysts said deeper reform was needed before the 2016 election.

City University political scientist Dr James Sung Lap-kung said the government should introduce more "super-seats" - functional constituencies elected by the public at large, rather than the small number of voters in particular sectors who elect most functional-seat lawmakers. Five such seats were introduced at the last election, out of 35 functional seats. The other 35 lawmakers are elected by the public in geographical constituencies.

Corporate activist David Webb said the electorate of functional seats should include every person working in the sector. In the 2012 poll, 16 functional constituency seats were returned uncontested. Steven Ho Chun-yin was able to win the agriculture and fisheries seat with just 105 votes. Christopher Cheung Wah-fung won the financial services seat with 208 votes.

Overall, only 240,000 people and corporations have votes.

Webb said the financial services seat showed the problem.

"What is called the financial services legislator is actually the small brokers' legislator because there are not individuals, but about 500 companies that have a vote, many of which have common parent companies," Webb said in an RTHK interview. "But there are 30,000 people with a current [Securities and Futures Commission] licence who have been entrusted to handle your money but are not entrusted to vote for the legislator in that seat."

The idea of scrapping corporate voting was floated during a 2009 consultation on reform. The government at that time said that "if all employees … were included … most functional constituencies would become, in practice, 'employee constituencies'."

The government said at the time that doing so would kill the purpose of the functional seats: to represent professions and industries vital to the economy and to counteract political populism.

And the seats have defenders.

"I agree that we can do something to broaden the electorate base," said Chan Kin-por, a lawmaker representing the 135 voters of the insurance sector. "But functional constituencies are a good system and should be retained. They enhance the representativeness of the legislature."

He said the importance of a functional constituency should not be decided by the size of its electorate alone.

"The insurance sector contributes a lot to the Hong Kong economy," he said. Trade Development Council research shows that insurance premiums last year made up about 13.7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Pan-democrat Charles Mok, who represents information and technology, said a functional constituency member must listen to the views of his voters.

"We pan-democrats may want to scrap the functional constituency system to make way for universal suffrage. But some people in our functional constituencies might think otherwise."