China's proposed rules on permanent residency are likely to cause electoral turmoil in the first few months after the handover, the territory was warned yesterday. Members of China's handover body, the Preparatory Committee, said the decision to allow returnees to choose whether to retain Hong Kong right of abode after arriving back would create immense problems for voter registration. Only permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region will be eligible to vote after the handover, with those retaining foreign citizenship being deleted from the electoral register. This was where problems would arise, warned committee member Lau Siu-kai, particularly with Beijing aiming to hold elections in 1998 to replace its provisional legislature. 'Until returnees make their decision on their status they cannot be removed from the register. This creates a sizeable group of people whose elector status will be questionable,' he said. It is not certain how many of the territory's 2.57 million voters will be affected, although about 700,000 Hong Kong people are thought to hold foreign passports or have right of abode overseas. Another factor, said Mr Lau, was the 'cleansing' of the register to adhere to the Basic Law. 'Filipino maids and foreign nationals who obtained their elector status by living in the territory for seven years will have to be de-listed,' he said. With little time or resources to compile an amended register after the handover, Mr Lau said there were suggestions it should be completely scrapped and a new one compiled in time for the 1998 polls. But with the Government taking more than a decade to expand Hong Kong's electoral roll from 1.27 million people in 1985 to 2.57 million last year, such an exercise seems likely to see a much reduced electorate. Mr Lau said there was concern a sharp drop in registered voters could undermine the legitimacy of China's first elected legislature. 'It would be embarrassing if the first legislature is elected by fewer voters than Legco under the British.' Because of this, it was vital a quick way was found to amend the list. But another committee member, Tam Yiu-chung, said the problems involved were so complicated a new register was inevitable. He said the size of the register could be smaller but this should not cause concern. The Preparatory Committee decided last month Hong Kong emigrants would retain permanent residency if they did not claim foreign citizenship. Those who declared themselves as foreign citizens would have to reside in Hong Kong for seven years to reclaim right of abode.