Village poll electors expected to double

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 12:00am

The number of people entitled to vote in the special administrative region's 700 villages is expected to double this summer following the introduction of the new 'two-heads' system for rural elections.

But observers say although it is a step forward in Hong Kong's democratic development, political parties are unlikely to benefit from the creation of 693 new seats open to non-indigenous residents in rural areas.

The elections are due to be held between July and August.

Assistant Director of Home Affairs Monica Chen said the number of eligible voters could 'more than double' the 120,000 now on the roll, following the new law which was passed in the legislature on Wednesday.

The change in the election system came after a Court of Final Appeal ruling in 2000 found that electoral laws which barred 'outsiders' from running as village heads was in breach of human rights obligations.

Under the new proposal, indigenous villagers - those who can trace their roots back to 1898 - would elect one indigenous head, while the entire village population would choose a 'resident's' representative. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 people are living in rural villages. There are 787 seats open for indigenous villagers to contest.

But Ms Chen said the government had yet to assess the final electorate figures, because only those living in the villages for three years are allowed to vote in the 'resident's' election, and election candidates have to be residents for at least six years.

Registrations for electors are open from March 1 to 21.

Li Pang-kwong, an election expert at Lingnan University, said except in some villages such as Sai Kung, which have large numbers of non-indigenous residents, political parties would attract little support.

'Most villages are very conservative and distrust political parties, and although nothing would stop parties from trying, their role would be small in the forthcoming elections,' Dr Li said.