Hongkongers need to talk about the 2016 Legislative Council election or risk giving functional-constituency lawmakers an "excuse" to keep their seats, two prominent political scientists warned yesterday.
The 2016 poll is being discussed as part of a five-month government consultation on electoral reform. But the debate has centred on the 2017 election for chief executive, due to be conducted under universal suffrage.
A popularly elected legislature is due to follow in 2020, but at a forum yesterday Chinese University's Ma Ngok and Dixon Sing Ming, from the University of Science and Technology, said it was not too early to discuss how Legco is elected.
"The government, the public, media, activist groups and even the pan-democrats are focusing on 2017, because it is crucial … but now is also an important opportunity to talk about … how we should change the electoral system in 2016," Ma said. "We need to let the functional constituencies know that it's time for them to go out of business."
At the last election in 2012, 40 of the 70 lawmakers were elected by the public, while the remainder were picked by 240,000 voters to represent functional constituencies, based on business and professional sectors.
Ma and Sing were speaking at Polytechnic University at a forum to launch the Classroom for Democratic Education in Hong Kong, an online platform developed by Sing and Baptist University's Dr Benson Wong Wai-kwok to encourage debate on reform.
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, who attended the forum, said the government and public should find ways to make functional-constituency lawmakers more accountable before scrapping the seats. Tse represented the tourism sector until 2012, when he was directly elected for Kowloon East.
Separately, a leader of the government consultation, constitutional affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, promoted the exercise by handing out leaflets on the streets of Aberdeen. Asked by a passer-by about the prospect of "screening" candidates in 2017 to keep out critics of Beijing, Tam said the system would "allow people to compete fairly".