One council,
one system

From single-seat single-vote
to the proportional
representation system

By Clara Loon

    With the failure of the “through train”, the legislative council returned in the 1995 election bid an early farewell to their constituencies.
     And people in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China are expecting their first newly elected legislature in May 1998.
     Under the new electoral system, the 60 seats will be divided among proportional representation from five geographical constituencies,
Clara Loon
indirect elections from functional constituencies and a block voting system by the Election Committee.
     Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong Chairperson Tsang Yok Sing said, “The DAB suggested the proportional representation system even before the Democratic Party’s victory in the 1995 election.
     “Our rationale is not that we could gain more seats from the single-seat single-vote system,” he said, “but because the number of seats that a party has should be more proportional to the number of the votes obtained (by all the party’s candidates).”
     Under the single-seat single-vote system, a vote cast for a candidate is the candidate’s alone; it does not accrue to the political party to which he belongs. Under the proportional representation system, a political party’s seats in the legislature are apportioned to its candidates based on the total number of votes received by all that party’s candidates in the same constituency.
     Mr. Tsang said the new system can reflect the accurate number of votes in terms of the number of seats, compared with the old system.
     Said he: “The Democratic Party had merely around 40 percent of the vote in the 1995 election, but it captured 60 percent of the seats in the geographical constituencies. However, the DAB received 42 percent of votes, but was represented by less than 30 percent of the seats. So our proportion of seats secured was smaller than that of the number of votes we received.”
     Mr. Cheng Kai Nam, vice-chairperson of the DAB, said, “If the proportional representation system is said to be designed for the DAB, I would say the single-seat single-vote voting system used in 1995 was tailor-made for the Democratic Party.”
     “We just want to have a fair electoral system under which we can obtain a number of seats that we deserve, based on the number of votes we received.
     “Besides, the proportional representation system fits well the political reality of Hong Kong. It brings out different opinions and it allows minorities’ voices. Under the single-seat single-vote system, a party can obtain all the seats if its votes exceed 50 percent,” said he. “It would rule out minorities’ voice and this does not suit the diverse political culture of Hong Kong.”
     Mr. Tsang refuted the idea that Hong Kong has always used the single-seat single-vote system.
     “The election of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong has never used just one voting system,” said Mr. Tsang.
     “In 1991, a double-seats double-votes system was used and in 1995 it was replaced with the single-seat single-vote. Thus, the switch to the proportional representation system is not a sudden change.”
     Mr. Tsang said, “Local political parties are still shaping and evolving, and voters’ support for different parties wavers frequently.
     “If the single-seat single-vote system is adopted, the results in each election will be widely different from one another. This may consequently hinder the stable political development of Hong Kong.
     “Although the number of eligible electorates in the functional constituencies was enlarged in 1995 election,” said Mr. Tsang, “the representation of interests was vague, especially in the ninth functional constituency, which included professions with widely different natures, such as journalists and civil servants. However, in the 1998 election, even though the new functional constituencies’ voter pool is smaller, the representation is now clearer.”
     Mr. Hui Kam Shing, a member of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, is in favour of the single-seat single-vote system.
     He said, “Since there are only 20 directly elected seats and the rest are ‘too balanced’, the geographical constituency should represent mainstream voices. The simple original single-seat single-vote system can to a large extent achieve this aim.
     “In choosing the voting system for direct elections, we should not consider which party it will favour. Rather, we should look at the composition of Legco,” said Mr. Hui.
     “The function of proportional representation is to include minority views,” said he, “but the minorities’ interests should have already been protected by the functional constituencies. On the other hand, if all 60 seats are elected directly, we would prefer a proportional representation system.”
     Mr. Hui said that the functional constituencies are likely to be dominated by pro-business groups and bankers. Therefore, he urged a direct election for the entire Legco as soon as possible.
     “The Hong Kong government is inconsistent. It is implementing the proportional representation system for the geographical constituencies on one hand, but, on the other hand, it is replacing the single transferable voting system,” said Mr. Hui.
     The Frontier alleged that the proportional representation system used in geographical constituencies is a conspiracy designed to squeeze out democratic forces. Also, it is heavily weighted in favour of pro-China groups.
     Mr. Leung Yiu Chung supported the proportional system, provided that all of the seats are directly elected.
     Said Mr. Leung: “Democratization must be gradual, but I do not see why direct elections for the entire Legco cannot be introduced now. The Legco returned by the 1995 direct election did not destabilize Hong Kong society at all. Instead, it played an important role in monitoring the government.”
     Faced with the political reality that the electoral system is changing, Mr. Leung said, “Unless we are able to mobilize all Hong Kong people to boycott the 1998 election, which is nearly impossible, we can only be positive and participate.”
     The Democratic Party said the new system will cripple their chances of regaining the seats they lost on 1 July.
     Mr. Anthony Cheung Bing Leung, vice-chairman of the Democratic Party, said, “I doubt the government’s motive in abolishing the original single-seat single-vote system.”
     The new functional constituencies’ voter pool will be greatly reduced, from the pre-handover 2.7 million to 180,000 in the 1998 election.
     “Such a reversal of political reforms is a retrogression of democracy,” said Mr. Cheung, “which is a return to corporate votes. These changes are likely to benefit pro-business candidates who can win support from a small but elite circle of voters.”
     Mr. Cheung will call for a referendum on the election bill if the government finds problems within the current electoral system.
     On the other hand, the DAB’s Mr. Cheng said that it would only cause further debate as well as unnecessary delays.
     Mr. Cheung said the Democratic Party would try its best to run for the election. It would also strive for direct elections for the entire Legco.
     Citizens Party founder Miss Christine Loh Kung Wai says there is no need to change the existing system of geographical constituencies.
     Said she: “The functional constituencies and the Election Committee have already represented the minorities and protected different interests.
     “Political parties should not say the system which favours them most is the best system.”
     However, Miss Loh said the proportional representation system would not favour any particular political party.
     “The actual results could never be known until the final moments (in counting votes),” said Miss Loh.
     Miss Loh is not worried about the unfamiliarity of her new party to the public. She said that her party would work for the best.
     On the other hand, she said the credibility of the SAR government has been seriously harmed by the existence of the Provisional Legislature after the handover.
     “In order to get rid of it, the immediate task is to launch the election of the first legislature as soon as possible.”
     Miss Loh said the current geographical constituencies should not be altered.
     “Instead, we should only modify the nine functional constituencies and the Election Committee,” said she.
     The Basic Law stipulates that no more than 20 percent of the 60 legislators can hold foreign passports.
     The government distributes quotas for foreign passport holders to the functional constituencies in the proposed election bill.
     “Such a distribution scheme is unfair,” Mr. Cheung said. “The government should either restrict all the seats to Chinese only, or open them all to non-Chinese, but not place all of them in the functional constituencies.”
     Miss Loh suggested that the government let the candidates decide whether or not to declare whether they are Chinese nationals in their application.
     Mr. Tsang said, “I expect the new electoral system will enable the 1998 Legco to reflect diverse opinions and monitor the SAR government.”
     “Various political parties which represent different interests will be able to secure seats in the Legco,” Mr. Hui said.

 Student power       Exams for Primary 6

November 1997

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