The legislature's functional constituencies should be abolished, and the best way to achieve that is by allowing more people to vote in them, a leading researcher on the evolution of Hong Kong's political system has proposed.
'Don't chop them, feed them,' said Michael DeGolyer, director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, as he released a report outlining a two-step expansion of functional constituency franchises in the lead-up to universal suffrage in 2020.
The second step reprises the functional constituency reforms proposed by Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten, in 1992. Lord Patten's reforms gave every working Hongkonger a vote in a functional constituency and in a directly elected seat in the 1995 legislative election.
The report is based on the responses of voters and potential voters to questions about the future of functional constituencies. The survey was co-sponsored by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a non-partisan US government body working to support and strengthen global democracy, and the Community Development Initiative Foundation, a non-profit local body that provides a platform for groups and think-tanks to collaborate for a common purpose.
Professor DeGolyer said the impasse over scrapping functional constituencies was not because members were sceptical about a fully directly elected legislature, but because they were unwilling to see their constituency scrapped before others.
His team's study found more support among functional constituency voters than others for the idea that ending the constituencies' disproportionate power would make government policies fairer.
Based on its findings, the Transition Project has issued its first proposal for paving the way to a directly elected legislature in 2020.
It proposes swelling the ranks of functional constituency voters by 500,000, to 730,000, in 2012. It says this could be done by:
Giving the vote to the listed officers and trustees of registered companies;
Giving the vote to members of professions who need to register, qualify or be certified to ply their trade, but who are not yet enfranchised;
Stripping companies of the vote; and
Allowing all members of recognised trade unions to vote in the labour constituency.
In 2016, it proposes that every permanent resident in employment be allowed a functional constituency vote. That would increase the number of functional constituency voters to about 2.5 million - about two-thirds of the total electorate in geographical seats, whose members are directly elected.
The Transition Project says its proposal 'would avoid the necessity of any functional constituency having to vote itself out of existence prior to any other functional constituency, but gradually move the functional constituencies from being highly restrictive to be being largely inclusive'.
Professor DeGolyer said the transition to a fully directly elected legislature in 2020 would be smoother because by then the government would no longer be able to justify giving some voters two votes and others only one.
Professor DeGolyer said he felt the proposal would be accepted by the establishment camp, since it essentially 'retained the character of the functional constituency until it's gone'.
He also hoped the proposal would be accepted by pan-democrats. 'As a liberal, why would they oppose extending the franchise?' he said.