The return of veteran rural affairs leader Lau Wong-fat to head Tuen Mun District Council has made a mockery of our democratic elections. His decades-long ties with the council should have been severed after he lost his ex officio seat due to a change that prevents chairmen of the lower-tier rural committees from serving more than two terms. But he has been hand-picked by the government to sit on the council through the much criticised appointment system, and backed by his allies to take the helm again.
Lau is an experienced councillor. But we need to ensure that new blood can be injected into our political system.
Institutional safeguards are needed to ensure leaders cannot stay too long in positions of power. The two-term limit placed on rural committees is a good example. Our chief executive is also barred, under the Basic Law, from serving more than two terms.
Similarly, the rationale applies to government advisory bodies, where appointees are not supposed to serve more than three terms. But this principle has not been followed. The government has effectively defeated the purpose of restricting the tenure by allowing Lau to return to the council. Although the number of councillors appointed - rather than elected - has been reduced by a third to 68 in the latest batch, the system continues to be used by the government to bolster its support.
It is ironic that the timetable for scrapping appointed seats remains unclear when universal suffrage for the chief executive and Legislative Council elections has already been promised for 2017 and 2020. The constitutional affairs chief has said he thinks they should be abolished by 2016, pending the outcome of a public consultation to be launched after the Lunar New Year. The system clearly contravenes the spirit of democracy and allows the government to distort electors' choices through appointing its allies to tip the balance of power on each council. Appointed seats must be removed as soon as possible.