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Accountants Have Spoken

Should LegCo continue to have legislators representing functional constituencies beyond 207? Eric Li comments on the findings of an important survey recently sent to HKSA members.

A professionally conducted independent survey should speak for itself. This is why I commissioned the Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Centre for Social Policy Studies to design the questionnaire which was sent to you all last August and to collect, collate and analyse the data and interpret the results, some of which appear below.

If you agree with the results, please support them by letting me know and if you disagree with the results, you should also let me know why. Irrespective of whether we like it or not, I hope the survey will, most importantly of all, prompt you to speak out on this critically important issue. Remember, your views will be imperative when it comes to making the final decision.

I was initially disappointed that only 586 of you returned the questionnaire. But the 4 % response rate constitutes a well-formed representative population and we have, therefore, a statistically acceptable sample. However, if more of you were to speak out, I would obviously have a more dependable collective view. As such, I will place the questionnaire on my website until the end of May 2000 in the hope of yielding a more meaningful update by then.

I spoke to the press on January 2000 immediately after the results were handed to me and urged the public not to make any unsafe assumptions that functional constituency electorates will automatically guard their special political privileges or that they will put their sectoral interests above all else.

I am of the opinion that other functional constituencies should conduct similar surveys to shed more light on the future of Hong Kong's political reform.

I also promise to seek your views when there are more concrete proposals emerging from the Government's consultation exercise to be conducted in due course.

The matter of political reform in now a hot topic of debate. We are already one step ahead of other functional constituencies in preparation for this debate. With your help and mandate, I hope I will be able to speak with great confidence when the post-2007 political reform begins to unwind itself in the years to come.

An Independent Survey

According to the Basic Law, the third Legislative Council (LegCo) election will be held in 2004. All 60 LegCo members are to be returned either by functional constituency election (30 seats) or by geographical constituency elections (30 seats). The Basic Law however, is open in regard to arrangements beyond 2007. Amendments, if any, in the methods by which the future legislature it to be formed, would come in the form of an endorsement of a two-thirds majority of LegCo and the consent of the Chief Executive prior to 2007.

The aim of this study has been to gauge the opinions of professional accountants in Hong Kong on whether changes should be made to the ways in which LegCo is constituted in 2004 and in 2006.

The Facts

Regarding LegCo's composition from 2004 to 2007, the majority (55.7%) of respondents were inclined to accept the arrangements set out in the Basic Law. Slightly less than half (44.3%) disagreed with 'the arrangement that 20 seats will be returned by the functional constituency election to LegCo in 2004' (see Table 1).

More respondents (45.1% compared to 36.8%) were in favour of abolishing functional constituency elections in 2007 than in keeping them (see Table 2).

On the whole however, respondents were positive about elections through geographical constituencies. Many (72.4%) disagreed that these elections were 'a waste of social resources'. More than half (57.5%) rejected the suggestion that these elections induced social conflict. However, as many as two-thirds (64.0%) of respondents agreed that geographical constituency elections increased the public mandate of the legislature and close to half (46.8%) accepted that direct elections through geographical constituencies meant 'government by the people'.

As for elections through functional constituencies, respondents' views were less straightforward. On the whole, they were slightly more inclined (34.2% compared to 26.5%) to take the view that these elections are 'above politics', that for members returned by these elections the 'views of constituents are decisive' (45.7% compared to 14.6%) and that this type of election is 'good for economic prosperity' (45.1% compared to 24.6%).

Just for the Star Factor?

Notwithstanding these positive views, slightly more respondents were inclined to characterise these elections as 'celebrity shows' (33.7% compared to 31.4$) and believed that, in these elections, 'sectoral interests dominate' (57.7% compared to 10.7%) (see Table 3).

In other words, respondents' views on functional constituency elections were, on the whole, more qualified. As such, respondents' attitudes towards these two types of election can be characterised as moderate and balanced. These was no overwhelming endorsement or categorical rejection of either type. On balance, however, there appeared to be a somewhat stronger inclination in support of elections through geographical constituencies than of elections through functional constituencies.

There is no surprise therefore than more respondents were in favour of abolishing functional constituency elections beyond 2007.

What is also very revealing is that, notwithstanding this preference, many more respondents were in favour of (61.6%), rather than against (23.4%), a 'gradual' approach to implementing electoral reforms with the view to bringing about full-scale direct elections (see Table 4).

Playing Politics

Elections are without doubt the central institution of democratic representative governments. Holding free and fair elections periodically not only helps to translate consent of the governed into governmental authority, which is an essential characteristic of all modern democracies, but also ensures that elected officials are accountable to the people at prescribed intervals. The design of election systems is paramount in the process of democratic transition. At present, three different electoral constituencies are used to elect members to LegCo. These included Geographical Constituencies, Functional Constituencies and the Election Committee.

The notion of election embodies two key values: equality and popular participation. The overwhelming majority of respondents endorse these values. Nearly all (95%) agreed that 'all elections must be governed by the standard of popular participation' (see Table 5).

So were respondents more in favour of direct elections? There were some who stated their position bluntly, such as: 'We want full-scale direct elections and the functional constituency election should be abolished as soon as possible.' Others pointed to fairness, representation and public mandate as key values underpinning direct elections. There were also those who lashed out at functional constituency elections, describing them as 'small-circle elections', 'not representative' and 'subject to manipulation'. They would like to see these 'unfair' and 'undemocratic' elections replaced by a system of 'one person, one vote'.

Moving to respondents who defended Functional Constituency (FC) elections, many pointed to 'professional knowledge' and the 'expertise' of FC representatives as being resources which would be of value to Hong Kong's economic prosperity and stability. This view was widely shared. Many respondents also stated their disappointment with the performance of directly elected Legislative Councilors who, in their view, lacked either vision or mass appeal. They believed that the presence of FC members in the Legislative Council could 'serve a check-and-balance function against members directly elected through geographical constituencies (GCs).

There was no surprise, therefore, that more than half of the respondents look the view that 'electoral reforms in terms of full-scale direct election must be gradual'.

Accountants Want Full-Scale Elections

The professional accountants in Hong Kong who answered the survey showed themselves to be a group of liberal and civic-conscious professionals who do not fail to exercise their political rights.

Their attitudes and views of the two electoral systems (elections through geographical constituencies and elections through functional constituencies) can in general be described as moderate and balanced. There was no overwhelming endorsement or categorical rejection of either type of election.

They were on the whole more positive about geographical constituency elections than about functional constituency elections.

Their attitudes on electoral reforms were on the whole liberal, but considered. The majority of them would rather not upset arrangements already prescribed by the Basic Law for 2004-2007. They were more ready for changes beyond 2007, but would advise following a gradual approach to implementing reforms eventuating in full-scale direct elections.

Who Answered

This survey covered 586 professional accountants who are young to middle-aged, male and local practitioners working in the private sector (see Table 6). Respondents were mainly aged between 30 and 39 (51.6%). The second largest group sampled (32.8%) was aged 40 and above and the smallest group comprised those aged 29 or below. This profile compares reasonably well with the HKSA's entire population.

The vast majority are eligible voters both in the geographical constituency elections (91.1%) and in the functional constituency elections (84.3%). Many of them exercised their rights by casting votes in the 1998 LegCo election. Of the eligible voters, only a small fraction gave up their rights.


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