A commission of US lawmakers and government officials warned yesterday that Hong Kong has fallen 'far short' of universal suffrage despite the passage of last year's electoral reform bill.
In its latest annual report, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China shed light on Hong Kong's progress towards universal suffrage, highlighting the package of reforms passed in a bill in June last year and the controversies surrounding a proposal to scrap by-elections in July this year.
'The Legislative Council passed legislation broadening the electoral base somewhat for the 2012 election of Legco ... changes which fell far short of universal suffrage,' the Hong Kong portion of the 345-page report said. 'A December 2007 decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee ... circumscribed the electoral reforms that Legco could pass concerning the 2012 elections.'
Under the reform bill, Legco will be expanded by 10 seats to 70, including five directly elected seats and five seats for the new district council functional constituency, which will be elected city-wide by 3.55 million voters from the 412 elected district councillors. The election committee for the chief executive poll - to be held in March - is also expanded from 800 to 1,200 members.
But the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau defended the reforms. 'On constitutional affairs, Hong Kong has taken a critical step forward,' a bureau spokesman said.
The report also mentioned the controversial proposal to scrap Legco by-elections. A public consultation ended on September 24 presenting four options, including giving the seat of a lawmaker who resigns to one of his or her running mates in the previous poll.
The government proposal follows the resignation of five democrat lawmakers last year, triggering by-elections that they claimed would be a de facto referendum on democracy. But voter turnout hit a record low of just 17.1 per cent.
The government claimed they were using a loophole that enabled the abuse of the electoral system and wasted public money.
The government said it would examine views from the consultation before making a proposal. 'The administration will ensure that the final proposal put forward for consideration will not just be constitutional and legal, but also reasonable and rational,' the spokesman said.
The administration tried to rush the bill through Legco but, after the annual July 1 rally drew the biggest turnout since 2004 - 200,000 by one estimate - it bowed to public pressure to hold a consultation.