Emily Lau floats the idea of primaries ahead of the Legco poll. Photo: Dickson Lee

Hong Kong's Democratic Party to vote on pre-election primary proposal

The Democratic Party could hold primary debates to select its candidates for next year's Legislative Council election under an unprecedented suggestion outlined by the group's chairwoman ahead of the party's annual general meeting tomorrow.

Emily Lau Wai-hing said her idea was borrowed from the presidential primaries in the US and believed such forums, which would be open to the public and the press, would greatly increase the transparency of the races.

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"I have wanted to do it for years," Lau told the . "This kind of primary debate has never been done in Hong Kong and could provide aspirants a platform to show the public their skills."

Under the party rules, which have been in effect since 2008, an aspirant must achieve high marks in public polls and appraisal by district councillors and members of his or her constituency branch to win party endorsement to run in a poll.

According to Lau's proposal, which will be voted on by all party members at the annual meeting, a forum would be held in each constituency where members of the public could question potential candidates. But the debates would not be made compulsory or affect the selection process.

"It would be too complicated to quantify the aspirants' performance in the selection process ... but such debates would still affect the candidates' exposure and the media's coverage of them," said Lau.

The lawmaker's plan has won support from at least four aspirants, who all believed the platform would help them stand out from rivals.

Party vice-chairman Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who is tipped to run in New Territories West, said a primary debate could show the public a candidate's capability and make the selection process more interactive.

"In the past we may just call up our party colleagues to lobby for their support and no face-to-face questioning would take place," he said.

Newly elected North district councillor Lam Cheuk-ting, who had shown interest in running in New Territories East, said opinion polls merely collected public views in a one-way manner.

"A forum would allow us to illustrate our beliefs and demonstrate our ability," he said. "It would also help engage the public."

Separately, party vice-chairman Lo Kin-hei proposed lowering the weighting of public opinion polls in the selection process from the current 80 per cent to 60 per cent, as he argued the views of party members on aspirants should receive greater respect.

However, his proposal may be more controversial than Lau's as it would affect the selection mechanism, which some aspirants said had not been thoroughly discussed.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Democrats to vote on pre-election primaries