Criticism abroad of the 1998 Legislative Council election arrangements has focused on the shrinkage of the franchise for functional constituencies. Actually, by far the greater iniquity is in what Tung Chee-hwa's government is doing to the direct elections. There has never been any doubt that direct elections are the core of democracy, and the only kind of election worth its name. Universal suffrage, one person one vote, first past the post, single-seat, single-vote - plain and simple: this was understood and accepted by everyone in Hong Kong and recognised by everyone in the world. The debate on the pace of democratisation had been, therefore, synonymous with the number of directly elected seats allowed. Never, until now, had anyone sought to tamper with that simple system in a cynical attempt to cripple it as a vehicle for returning Democrats to the Legislative Council. Although Mr Tung claimed abroad that his electoral proposals had the support of the local community, this was not what the polls showed. The polls showed few people could make out what the new proportional representation system of voting was all about, and an overwhelming majority wanted the old system retained. Not that Mr Tung is likely to listen. It is so clear that he will not listen that the party which stands to lose most - the Democratic Party, which won 16 of the 20 directly elected seats in 1995 - has all but given up protesting, and instead is concentrating its efforts on winning as many seats as it can under the unfavourable arrangements. But the further the Democrats go into their planning, the more clearly the evil of the new rules is revealed. With all of Hong Kong to be divided into five geographical constituencies, each to have three to five seats, the first task is to decide which candidates are to be fielded for each constituency. The difficulty is that voting is by list, and no matter how many seats there are, each voter can only cast one vote. The further down the list of his party a candidate is, the less likely he is to be elected. To win one seat a candidate will need to win roughly 25 per cent of the votes. As it is most unlikely that any party will win 75 per cent of the votes, the third on the list faces great uncertainty. The result will be that many of the 19 Democratic Party members of the last Legco will lose their seats. One notable example is Andrew Cheng Kar-foo. He was the member for the Chris Patten-created insurance constituency. In the 1995 election, he won 25,658 votes - 37 per cent of votes cast - while the next placed, a Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) candidate, won 18,674 votes - 27 per cent. This constituency has been shrunk to its 221 corporate voters by Mr Tung's government. Few will vote for Mr Cheng, so he has to seek a return by direct election, standing for the Hong Kong Island constituency. However, this is also the home constituency of Martin Lee Chu-ming, Dr Yeung Sum and Christine Loh Kung-wai. As third on the Democratic Party list, he will have to compete with fellow democrat Ms Loh of the Citizens Party, and DAB opponents Ip Kwok-him and Gary Cheng Kai-nam. Even if the Democratic Party gets 60 per cent of the votes and Mr Lee and Dr Yeung are returned, with the remaining 10 per cent, Mr Cheng will almost certainly be out. The same thing is likely to happen to the 'Bull' - Tsang Kin-shing. He won in the Patten-created agricultural and fisheries functional constituency in the 1995 election with 11,592 votes - 38 per cent - while a DAB candidate won 7,493 - 24 per cent. This constituency has now shrunk to 170 corporate votes. Mr Tsang will have to stand for direct election, probably for Kowloon West. There, however, first on the Democratic Party list is trade unionist Lau Chin-shek, with James To Kun-sun second. Opponents include the DAB's Tsang Yok-sing and the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood's Frederick Fung Kin-kee. Mr Tsang's chances are not going to be better than Andrew Cheng's. Some would say that even James To Kun-sun, one of the strongest Democratic Party members in the last Legco, is not safe. New Territories West is the home constituency for five former Democratic Party Legco members including Albert Ho Chun-yan and Lee Wing-tat. There is no real chance of all five being returned. Another notable possible democrat of the last Legco is trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan of the Frontier party - he moved the now frozen labour laws on collective bargaining. In 1995, he was returned by the manufacturing functional constituency with 30,510 votes, or 67 per cent. His constituency is now gone. He is said to be considering New Territories East. This is the home of another Frontier member, Emily Lau Wai-hing. It is uncertain what the Democratic Party strategy is, but there is no lack of strong opponents including Allen Lee Peng-fei for the Liberal Party, and Andrew Wong Wang-fat as an independent. While Ms Lau's seat may be safe, the same cannot be said for any other democrat. Yet another Frontier member with difficulties is Leung Yiu-chung. He was returned by the textile and garment functional constituency in 1995 with 10,472, or 45 per cent of the votes. This constituency has shrunk to 5,020 voters. The main contenders are now Yeung Chun-kam and Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun, both members of the Provisional Legislative Council. The irony is that, under this proportional representation voting system, some members of the DAB reckoned that in any geographical constituency, even if they were to win 38 per cent of the votes and the Democratic Party were to win 62 per cent, the DAB would be able to return two candidates, the same as the Democratic Party. With four seats up for grabs, each party must get 25 per cent of the vote for a candidate to be returned. Thus the Democrats would return two candidates with 12 per cent remaining. The DAB would return one candidate with 13 per cent remaining, thus taking the fourth seat by one per cent of the vote. However, if the Democratic Party pockets 63 per cent of the votes, it would return the third candidate from its list ahead of the second DAB candidate. So much for proportionality. The even bigger irony is that whereas, historically, with the progress of democracy people returned by 'rotten boroughs' lost their seats when the franchise became universal; here, democrats who won on broad franchises are likely to lose their seats when their constituencies are shrunk. This is, if nothing else, evidence of retrogression in democratisation. It is not a matter of pace, but of direction. In defence of this mode of voting it has been said that proportional representation is a perfectly respectable model adopted by recognised democracies. Each method of voting, it is said, has its strengths and weaknesses, and so there is nothing undemocratic about choosing one or the other. This argument does not wash. For once, motivation is relevant. There is no demand for change in the community. Indeed, the opposite. The aim is not to allow more, smaller groups to be represented. Nor is it necessary to tamper with the directly elected seats even if this is the purpose: given the functional constituency and election committee seats, the Government can already bring in the spectrum (or domination) of views it desires. Further, the consequence, as can be foreseen now, is simply the constraining of the democrats who won the largest number of votes in the last election and are likely to win the largest number of votes again in the next. The change is fundamental. And cynically aimed. It is also revealing of the lengths Mr Tung is prepared to go to cripple even the little democracy allowed by the Basic Law. Some say they see the hand of Beijing. I take him at his own word. I blame him.