Faulty functionals

NO one will be surprised to learn that Regional Councillor Alfred Tso Shiu-wai has been elected to serve in the Legislative Council in the seat vacated by disgraced legislator Gilbert Leung Kam-ho. The electorate, largely dominated by rural figures, numbers just 35, including three ex-officio members from the Heung Yee Kuk, and nine representatives of Kuk-dominated district boards. So the die was cast as soon as the various rural factions united behind a single candidate.

The Regco election is a model for much of what is wrong with the functional constituency system. Its very existence is one of the clearest arguments in favour of Governor Chris Patten's controversial attempt to broaden the franchise for the functional constituencies. It is an even better argument for their abolition. Mr Patten's proposals would increase the Regco constituency electorate to no more than 39.

Regco is the most rotten of Legco's ''rotten boroughs''. Only a third of its members are directly elected. Democracy means rule by the people, not co-option by a small coterie of largely appointed local bigwigs. The Heung Yee Kuk has its own Legco functional constituency representative in the shape of its Chairman, Lau Wong-fat. It is wrong, even by the undemocratic rules obtaining in Hongkong, for the Kuk to have a second constituency under its de facto control merely by virtue of the small number of voters involved - especially when one of them is Mr Lau.

But it is the opportunity for vote-buying and calling-in of personal favours which is the most worrying aspect of the functional constituency system. The smaller and more closely knit the electorate, the more serious the problem. The temptations of the system were amply demonstrated by the previous incumbent, now serving time in prison for his generosity with ''tea-money''. It is to be assumed, unless proved otherwise, that candidates in yesterday's election scrupulously avoided any similar action. In anycase, with the opposition split and the rural electors united behind him, Mr Tso seems to have been assured of victory without any need to resort to such tactics.

But as United Democrat candidate Chow Yick-hay pointed out in this newspaper yesterday, with an electorate of 35 the result will be decided by personal relationships rather than ability or track-record. That is a factor which no amount of anti-corruptionlegislation or monitoring can eliminate. If New Territories voters are to have a real say in who sits on Legco, they need a larger and more democratically constituted body to represent their views.