Why this lawmaker isn't worth as much as those he belittles

November 10, 2015 15:47
Chan Kin-por (inset) won his Legco seat by default, having run unopposed in the insurance constituency. Now he is disparaging fellow lawmakers who were elected by tens of thousands of voters. Photos: CNSA, HKEJ

Here's one more proof functional constituencies represent everything that is wrong with our electoral system.

The new evidence comes to us courtesy of Chan Kin-por who represents the insurance industry.

Note that Chan won his seat unopposed, the equivalent of being handed something, deserved or not, on a silver platter.

But on Monday, on a radio talk show, Chan found it appropriate to disparage lawmakers who get elected with "only 20,000 or 30,000 votes".

The situation is "strange" and the whole electoral system is "distorted", he complained.

He is right about one but wrong about the other.

Thanks to this "distorted" election process, people like him accede to the legislature -- sometimes uncontested -- but 30,000 votes to send someone there is no small feat.

Chan's comments highlighted a flawed framework that essentially makes one vote worth more than another and allows multiple voting by a single individual.

It creates a superior class of small-circle electorate -- special-interest groups whose representatives carry as much weight in the legislature as someone who has been returned by "only 20,000 or 30,000" votes from the geographical constituencies.

Which is why advocates of representative democracy want nothing to do with this colonial relic Beijing built on and expanded after the handover.

Some functional constituency candidates need no more than 100 votes to win while those from geographical constituencies have to get at least 20,000.

The theory is that functional constituencies ensure equal representation for all sectors of society but the reality is that one class of vote is more equal than the rest.

When Chan commented on his uncontested election years earlier, he said the voters recognized his work, so he ended up without a challenger.

But from a wider perspective, an uncontested win is not the same as having the full support of voters. It just means winning by default.

So what does it tell us about our electoral system when a "zero vote" lawmaker belittles someone who has been supported by tens of thousands of voters?

Hong Kong's political structure which included 14 functional constituencies in 1991 further evolved after 1997 when Beijing decided that expanding the representation of vested interests could keep democrats and opposition forces from district councils and the legislature.

In 2000, then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa dissolved the Urban Council and Regional Council, slashing the number of politicians directly elected by the public.

Then, geographical constituencies were drawn up by way of "list proportional representation", enabling smaller political parties to win with a small number of votes.

The scheme benefited both Beijing loyalists and democrats.

Gary Fan of the radical group Neo Democrats and pro-Beijing independent Paul Tse are two examples of candidates who surpassed the required votes to win a seat.

Political observers and pro-democracy activists want a more democratic electoral system to fully reflect public opinion, rather than something that can be manipulated by mathematics based on turnout rates.

In fact, pro-Beijing parties play this kind of game rather well, so that they can win most of the seats even though their total number of votes lags those of democrats.

In 2012, democrats and Beijing loyalists captured 55 percent and 44 percent of the vote, respectively.

But the number of seats in the 35 geographical constituencies were split 18-17 in favor of democrats.

If the "single-seat, single-vote" system was used in the 35 local constituencies, democrats would take all 35 seats, needing only a simple majority to win.

The distortion is not so much about the geographical constituencies as it is about the small-circle functional constituencies.

For example, the insurance sector which Chan represents is made up of just 140 companies.

But with the support of Beijing loyalists, Chan was elected chairman of the powerful Legco finance committee.

One of his earliest official acts was the quick approval of funding for the Innovation and Technology Bureau, a controversial pet project of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

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EJ Insight writer