60 directly-elected seats + 30 functional
(Sing Tao Daily, 31 May 1999)
The Hon Eric Li, convener of the Breakfast Group of the LegCo, proposed that after 2007, the number of LegCo seats should be increased from the present 60 to 90, 60 of which should be returned by direct election and 30 by functional constituencies as at present. He pointed out that this proposal would not only speed up the pace of democratisation, but also attract more candidates from the business and professional sectors to participate in the direct elections. Besides, more legislators meant more manpower for practical work.
Beneficial to business and professional sectors as well as pro-democratic parties
Eric Li said in an interview that the Basic Law stipulates that all LegCo members should eventually be elected by universal suffrage. Although political parties in the business and professional sectors are aware of the eventual approach of direct elections, existing legislators returned by functional constituencies seldom take the risk of participating in direct elections as those qualified to do so are mostly veteran members of their sectors. If they fail to secure a seat in the election, political parties from the business and commercial sectors would suffer a loss of their veteran members. It would be too high a risk for the parties. Allen Li, former Liberal Party chairman, is the best example. Eric Li pointed out that this is the reason why candidates from the business sectors have been reluctant to participate in direct elections. If the number of directly elected seats increases, they would know that they stood a better chance under the system of proportional representation, and thus they would not object to increasing the number of directly elected seats. Pro-democratic parties would certainly have no reasons for objection.
Eric Li said there are other problems facing LegCo and that more legislators would be required to handle the enactment of legislation. Members of a legislative council play various roles and only about half of them would be involved in practical work such as the enactment of legislation. With the increasing workload of legislators, the LegCo has no manpower to spare to address other issues. The legislature of 60 seats, a creation by the former British government, used to play only a consultative role to the Governor and was not a fully functional legislature. Therefore, there was no need to have a large number of legislators. Taking examples from the legislature of any countries in the South-east Asian region, he said that there could be as many as 100 to 200 members in one legislature, and a legislature of 60 seats was too small in scale for Hong Kong. Besides, the decision of the government to dissolve the two municipal councils has left plenty of room to increase the number of directly elected seats by 30.
Eric Li was of the opinion that the present 30 seats returned by functional constituencies and the bicameral voting system should be retained after increasing the number of LegCo seats. Otherwise, the government would certainly object to the proposal and the proposal itself would also be in violation of the spirit of the Basic Law. What was most important was that the Basic Law stipulates that the passage of bills introduced by the government shall require at least a simple majority vote of the members of the Legislative Council present at the meeting. In other words, if the number of directly elected legislators increases tremendously, the LegCo would have a bigger say and greater constraints would be imposed upon the passage of government bills.
He added that under this proposed restructuring, the executive-led government would face more constraints. Though it would take a longer time to pass a bill, it was the right thing to do in a democratic society. Eric Li said that the proposed change would not involve an amendment to the Basic Law, except Annex II, and that procedure would certainly be far less complicated – such amendment could be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all LegCo members and the consent of the Chief Executive, and then reported to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for the record. No amendment to the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress would be required.