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Continuing to deny professionals of votes could mean greater political instability
By Sang Young
IT Voice member
System Security Engineer

Hong Kong’s IT sector had a total of 82,973 employees or business owners as of 2014, according to an industry survey conducted that year. But among them, only 5,650 or seven per cent were eligible voters in the functional constituency (FC) of the IT sector last year, as shown by information from the Registration and Electoral Office. What’s more is that most of these votes are now casted by means of corporate voting, or in other words, only business owners get to vote. Another bad news is that such uneven concentration of votes in the hands of the few is not uncommon in other functional constituencies as well.

One of a kind - Hong Kong is the only place on earth which elects representatives of trades and professions as lawmakers

Functional constituencies came into being back in the British colonial era. The release of the Green Paper on Representative Government in 1984 set in motion the territory’s political reform. The introduction of functional constituencies back then was meant to be the beginning of representative politics in Hong Kong.

The last British Governor, Chris Patten, in 1995, went one step further to revamp the electoral system in a bid to make it more representative of the populace. Under his proposal, nine seats of the Legislative Council were to be elected from nine constituencies in which the eligible electorate altogether was extended to 2.7 million. Individual voting also replaced corporate voting to broaden the franchise. However, such arrangement has been abolished since the 1997 handover.

Throughout history, an electoral system that is based on trades or professions is hardly common. Professor Ma Ngok from the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong once described the city as the only place on earth that relies on functional constituencies to elect the members of its legislature.

100-odd business owners voting on behalf of over 100,000 industry members

The functional constituency of the insurance industry is of a similar size as the IT sector with about 100,000 practitioners. But as of last year, the sector had merely 128 registered voters or 0.1 per cent of those in the business, and all of them business owners.

In a bid to reverse the situation, the sector’s pro-democracy pressure group Insurance Arise is now advocating the franchise to be broadened to include insurance agents, actuarialists and other industry professionals, according to the group’s spokesman Kelvin Lee. He said the current electoral system based on corporate voting is fundamentally flawed in that it only reflects the views of those at the industry’s management level. A truly representative electoral system within the insurance sector is necessary if the industry was to pursue better development for the industry as a whole, he added.

No more “shampoo boat” remark from my supposed representative

The financial industry alone has two representatives from two separate sectors - namely finance and financial services - in the 70-member Legislative Council. But as of last year, the two sectors had only respectively 121 and 551 registered voters, all of whom business owners. The electorate of the two sectors altogether represents a mere 0.3 per cent of the almost 200,000-strong finance sector of Hong Kong.

Financier Conscience, the sector’s pro-democracy pressure group, said they were worried not only by the lack of mandate of their representative, but also the competency of their representative in the Legislative Council as a lawmaker, said the group’s convener Eric Yip.

Yip pointed to the controversial remark the finance sector legislator Ng Leung-sing made recently when speaking at the Legislative Council chamber. Without substantiating his claims with any proof, Ng accused the then missing Causeway Bay Books owner Lee Bo of taking a “shampoo boat” from Hong Kong to smuggle into mainland China looking for prostitutes. Yip said the embarrassing and groundless accusation from their supposed representative caused concerns within many from the industry, but they have yet been able to make their voice heard since they have no votes now.

Increased representation by replacing corporate voting with individual voting

While the abolishment of functional constituencies remains a distant dream at the moment, the consensus among most professional groups across different disciplines is that the franchise within each functional constituency should be broadened to give the FC lawmaker a greater popular mandate.

Felix Fung from Act Voice, a pressure group also from the insurance sector, said the electorate of his and many other sectors can be easily and greatly broadened to include existing members officially recognized for their respective professional qualifications.

The disappointing performance of many FC lawmakers at the Legislative Council has convinced most professionals and industry employees currently denied of votes that the existing electoral system is a failure, and one that perpetuates injustice by allowing the minority to decide the fate of the majority. If the current lawmakers were to go on clinging on to their privilege while shunning the majority in their respective sector, discontent among the majority would mount day-by-day and imbed additional instability in the failing SAR governance.
  IT Voice