Changing the face of politics

Electoral politics did not begin in earnest in Hong Kong until 1982, when universal suffrage was introduced and the first popular poll was held to return district board members. Two decades later, democratic development is still in a nascent state in which political parties are small, lacking in resources and learning to come to grips with the art of politics.

One of the biggest difficulties budding politicians and their parties face is a shortage of funding. The structure of the SAR's political system is such that political parties do not govern and can only influence policies by winning seats in the legislature. As a result, the parties do not get a lot of donations from business.

So it is encouraging that the government has finally come round to accepting the idea of using taxpayers' money to fund election campaigns. Under the government's proposal, candidates elected or who had received 5 per cent of valid votes would be given financial support at $10 per vote, up to 50 per cent of the actual declared expenses. This should encourage civic-minded citizens, who may otherwise refrain from throwing their hats into the ring, to stand for election. In the same vein, the proposal to lower the threshold for the return of election deposits from the existing 5 per cent to 3 per cent is also welcomed.

Yet, one could argue that funding is not the issue. What is really impeding the development of political parties is the limited role they are allowed to play in running Hong Kong. If the government is serious about encouraging the development of party politics, it should change the law that bars candidates with political party affiliations from running for chief executive.

The Basic Law does not say the chief executive cannot be a member of a political party; the restriction is covered by electoral law. Political parties would certainly come to life if they were to be allowed to implement their platforms by putting their candidates into the CE post. Should that happen, a law on political parties would be needed to ensure they would conduct their business with maximum transparency.

Functional constituencies are a blot in our political system, as they effectively give one more vote to a small number of people on the basis of occupations. Yet, for as long as they remain part of the system, it is only logical to include practitioners of Chinese medicine in the medical constituency, whose electorate currently comprises only practitioners of Western medicine and dentists.

At present, the medical constituency has 7,700 registered voters, about 7,000 of them doctors, against a potential pool of 13,100. In the short term, the estimated 2,400 herbalists may not be numerically strong enough to prevail over their counterparts who practise Western medicine. But politics in the sector will certainly change with the inclusion of herbalists.