The government has a plan to stop lawmakers using by-elections to stage 'referendums' - by scrapping by-elections in geographical constituencies.
In a proposal announced yesterday, a vacant seat in the Legislative Council arising from the resignation or death of a legislator would be filled by the next best placed candidate at the previous election.
In January last year, five Civic Party and League of Social Democrats lawmakers resigned to trigger by-elections they hoped would be a de facto referendum on political reform. But the other main political parties did not put up candidates, and all five were voted back into office last May. Turnout was just 17.1 per cent and the government said the by-election, which cost HK$126 million, had been unnecessary.
Candidates in geographical constituencies need a certain number of votes to get elected; when several candidates run on the same party list, those ranked low on the slate miss out because the votes left over are insufficient to earn them a seat. Under the government plan the candidate with the most left-over, or 'remainder' votes, would fill the vacancy, whatever slate they were from.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said some countries filled vacancies between elections by referring to previous poll results. 'In some countries where the proportional representation (PR) system is adopted, by-elections are not used to fill vacant seats arising mid-term.'
But the proposal appears to put Hong Kong out on its own internationally. According to a study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, if a seat becomes vacant between elections, under party-list PR systems in European countries the vacancy is filled with the next candidate on the list of the former representative's party.
Dr Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the government proposal would not reflect the preference of voters who backed the candidates who resigned.
'As far as I know, none of the countries which adopt the proportional representation system implement a replacement mechanism similar to that proposed by the Hong Kong government,' he said.
The proposal would take effect next year and apply to geographical constituencies and five new district council functional constituencies.