China moves goalposts for Hong Kong elections

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The Independent Online
Hong Kong's election system is to be altered in a way which critics say will ensure selection of a compliant legislature. Against a storm of protest, China decided to abolish all elected tiers of government following last week's handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty. However, elections for the legislature were promised before next July.

What was not known until yesterday was what would replace the first-past- the-post system used to elect members to geographical constituencies, which made up one-third of the seats in the now abolished legislature. These will be elected by a unique proportional representation system using a "largest remainder formula", under which winning candidates have votes redistributed to less popular ones. The territory has been divided into five mega-constituencies, ending the system of direct constituency representation.

Fred Li, a former Democratic Party legislator, said: "The purpose is to limit the number of democrats coming back to the Legislative Council." In the last elections, in 1995, pro-democracy candidates swept the board in geographical constituencies, gaining all but one of the seats.

Another move to reduce the presence of pro-democracy candidates comes in a ban on all foreign passport-holders standing for election in the geographical constituencies. Foreign passports are common among Hong Kong's middle class. Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy legislator, and top vote-winner in the last election, is among a large group who would now be ineligible to stand.

The government will further enhance its support in the new legislature by arranging to have 10 of the 60 seats filled by members selected by an 800-strong committee, likely to be packed by its supporters. This replaces the present system, where 10 members are selected from the ranks of directly elected local-council officers.

The biggest source of support for the government is likely to come from seats set aside for so-called functional constituencies. They account for half the members of the legislature. Foreign passport-holders will be limited to standing in 12 of the 30 constituencies.

The installation of nine functional constituencies, covering the entire working population, and introduced by the former governor Chris Patten, has been scrapped and replaced by a previous system of constituencies with few electors and, often, no contested election. Under these arrangements the pro-democracy camp, which held almost half the seats in the elected legislature, will be lucky to win a fifth in the new body.

A China-appointed committee recommended a system which appeared to be a far more audacious form of vote- rigging. The multi-seat, single- vote system they backed is designed to deprive popular parties from gaining full benefit of their support, because voters can only vote for a single candidate in a constituency with a number of seats.

This means that those with little support benefit once the bulk of the votes is given to the popular candidate and the remainder are distributed.