The government is planning to amend a law to bar foreign consulates and international bodies from voting in Legislative Council functional constituency elections.
'The rationale is that foreign governments [and] consulates should not participate in local politics,' Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said yesterday. Widespread concern has been expressed over the votes foreign envoys have as members of business chambers.
Lam yesterday officially unveiled the details of bills concerning the 2012 chief executive and Legislative Council elections.
The bills seek to expand the membership of the Election Committee that will select the next chief executive to 1,200, while creating five new seats each for Legco's geographical and functional constituencies.
However, the government has not responded to calls to lower the nomination threshold or the HK$6 million campaign expense cap for each of the so-called super seats for district councillors.
On the voting rights of foreign bodies, more than a dozen consular members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce are currently eligible to vote in the Legco functional constituency election to select the chamber's representative.
Yesterday, the Belgian consulate in Hong Kong said it took itself off the government's list of corporate voters a few months ago.
Consul General Michel Malherbe said a staff member made a mistake by registering the consulate many years ago. 'Consulates are observers of the local reality,' Malherbe said. 'It is obvious that foreign consulates should not take part in the elections.'
There had earlier been opinions expressed by critics that foreign governments should not become involved in local politics, and there were suggestions that the chamber should amend its rules to plug the loophole.
But Jeffrey Lam Kin-fun, the chamber's representative in Legco, said it would be difficult for the chamber to say who should and who should not have a vote among its members.
'We respect the government's decision to exclude foreign consulates from voting,' he said. 'Since the consulates are mainly concerned with economic affairs as members of our chamber, I am sure they will understand.'
However, under the government proposal, the Kwang Hwa Information and Culture Centre, a de facto Taiwan representative, will still be eligible to vote due to its connections to the cultural and publishing sector.
Lam denied this was special treatment for Taiwan, arguing that Kwang Hwa was not considered a foreign representative in Hong Kong.
However, a person familiar with the situation said Kwang Hwa has already taken its name off the voting register.
Meanwhile pan-democrats are hoping the government will make concessions regarding the new seats.
The government currently insists that the five new functional constituency seats to be created for district councillors - seats to be voted on by more than 3.2 million people in one single constituency - will each have a nomination threshold of 15 district councillors.
But Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said his party would lobby others to back a threshold of 10 electors among the 400-plus councillors, as it will make it easier for smaller parties and independents who cannot muster backing in the district councils.
The Liberal Party and government ally Lam Tai-fai support such an amendment.
The Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said it had not made a decision.
The government has not responded to requests to lower the new seats' expenses cap from, in Hong Kong dollars: $6m