It is no secret that the SAR's first electoral system, open and transparent though it may be, is still full of flaws. A considerable section of the electorate feels dissatisfied with the general concept of the ballot and with the way the legislative seats have been divided up. In addition, many voters find it hard to get to grips with the complicated proportional representation arrangements for seats in the big new geographical constituencies. It is not surprising, therefore, if all the signs point to a low turnout, in part because people simply cannot fathom the way the system works. This election should set the seal on Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, and constitute a first step towards full democracy. But, unless a last-minute publicity campaign can persuade the electorate to come out and vote on May 24, the poll risks turning into a flop in terms of popular participation. The administration has concentrated on trying to put a positive slant on the new arrangements. Given their nature, that has not been an easy task. Indeed, the absence of solid arguments for the democratic nature of the electoral arrangements can only have further undermined the popular feeling of involvement in the poll. Perhaps that is why a change of tone can now be detected as it appears that the Government is contemplating alterations to the procedure in time for a second election in the year 2000 if there is a strong public demand for such a move. Even at this early stage, such a demand is evident - and not just from those who see the current arrangements as having been devised with the aim of minimising their presence in the new legislative council. Hong Kong has a rich array of politicians known for their personalities as much as for their party allegiances. With political parties a relatively recent phenomenon, it is not surprising if the preferences of voters are based as much on personalities as on party lines. A ballot where voters cannot recognise the individual strengths of a candidate is bound to be unsatisfactory when electors want to be able to back politicians whose characters they value. The recognition by the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance that it is not popular enough to compete for geographical seats shows the limits of the present system as a measure of popular sentiment since the party can still count on indirect voting to gain representation in the new legislative council. The current system is bound to raise questions about the credibility of the new Legco as a representative of the people. If the democratic camp does as well as our opinion poll last week suggested, the contrast between the votes it attracts and the number of seats it will occupy after May 24 must inevitably reflect on the system which produced such a disparity. Some argue that the council is not meant to be a mirror of popular feelings, and that the functional constituencies and the Election Committee play roles that fit the specifics of this society and the newly born SAR. But, even allowing for that, the balance between the 20 geographical seats and the 40 others is out of kilter, and means that there is no way in which the new council can represent a majority vote by the electorate at large. This is implicitly recognised by the provision to change that balance in later elections. Given the sophistication of the electorate, it is hard to make a convincing case that it needs to be led gently towards greater participation in deciding who sits in Legco, and is not sufficiently mature to make that step immediately. The Government's apparent willingness to reconsider the system is, therefore, to be encouraged. One issue which has to be recognised in any discussion of election systems is that the division between the executive and the legislature is as sharp as it was in colonial days, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. The power of functional constituency representatives in determining the fate of legislation, as provided for in the Basic Law, puts a further barrier between popularly elected legislators and the fate of bills in the council. However well a party does at the popular polls, that does not bring its members executive authority - whatever the electoral system. To that extent, the virtues of a first-past-the-post, single-member constituency system in producing clear governmental majorities have no relevance for Hong Kong. Equally, the blocking powers of functional representatives are going to stand in the way of a powerful block of constituency-elected members. But, taking this into account, the first-past-the-post system in smaller, single-member constituencies has two great advantages. One is that voters know exactly who they are casting their ballots for. A closer link is also established between the electorate and legislators: that is a valuable political element to set alongside such a strongly executive-led form of government. Above all, a clearer and fairer system could encourage greater involvement in the way the SAR is run, and counteract the lack of interest which the present system appears to be generating.