Calling for the abolition of functional constituencies in the Legislative Council as part of electoral reforms would be reckless because the system had operated smoothly for the past 23 years, the deputy chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee said. In a surprise reference to former governor Chris Patten, Elsie Leung Oi-sie said that instead of calling for an end to the seats, people should look at how Patten's reform of 1995 expanded the franchise from 69,825 registered voters to 1.15 million by creating nine new functional constituencies. Speaking at a constitutional reform seminar, Leung said references could be drawn from Patten's move, which was condemned by Beijing, to make functional constituencies compatible with universal suffrage when it is introduced. 'It would be reckless if we just call for the scrapping of a tried and tested system, which has been running smoothly for 23 years,' Leung said. Patten's nine new constituencies were abolished after the handover, when the legislature was disbanded and a new structure introduced. 'After 15 years, reference can today be drawn from this model, and also 15 years later in 2020. Some people have pointed out the deficiencies of functional constituencies. In fact, these problems can be resolved,' she said. The former secretary for justice was hitting back at the call by critics to abolish the trade-based constituencies, which now comprise half of the 60-seat legislature. Critics say the seats allow industry groups to hold too much power, and lawmakers are chosen in a small-circle election. Introduced in 1985, these seats, representing about 230,000 voters, have long been criticised for placing unequal weight on business and professional bodies. While toeing the government's line that these constituencies, in their current forms, did not comply with the principles of genuine universal suffrage, Leung said they could be improved when universal suffrage was introduced to elect the legislature in 2020. Leung's comments followed suggestions floated recently by pro-government figures who hinted that functional constituencies should stay beyond 2020. On the plan by the Civic Party and League of Social Democrats for one lawmaker from each of the five geographical constituencies to resign in order to trigger a de facto referendum on universal suffrage, Leung said it would not be effective, as Hong Kong had no referendum mechanism. Her remarks were attacked by pan-democrats, who cited them as evidence of their fears that Beijing was trying to keep the functional seats indefinitely. 'Functional constituencies have always been a transitional measure,' Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said. 'That's why we have to fight harder, or they will remain forever.' At a district consultation forum last night, most speakers, who were from the Beijing-loyalist camp, supported the government reform proposals, despite a protest by pan-democrats outside and inside the venue in Tsuen Wan. Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen urged people to support the proposal to achieve democracy incrementally in 2012, while Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said whether functional constituencies should be scrapped was something to be decided after 2017.