27. The basic problem relating to this Hong Kong election is the nature of the election law under which it is being held. This has been designed to frustrate the popular will as much as possible.
The use of proportional representation is a replacement of the first past the post system used in previous elections. In principle replacing first past the post with a proportional system cannot be faulted. However in Hong Kong its effect will be to give additional seats to minority groups which are already grossly over-represented through the functional constituencies. The over-representation of these groups will be further increased by the Election Committee seats which will tend to duplicate the representation provided by the functional constituencies. In addition the reduction of the franchise in the 9 functional constituencies created in 1995, the replacement of individual by corporate voting in all but one of these constituencies, and the extension of corporate voting in the old functional constituencies will all tend to increase the number of seats won by small unrepresentative groups and reduce the number of seats won by the parties with popular support. The pro-democracy parties currently attract over 60 % of the popular vote according to opinion polls but cannot win more than a third of the seats under the electoral system being used.
28. There have been no suggestions so far of irregularities in relation to voter registration, and until recently it has been assumed by most observers and participants that the actual conduct of the election, in terms of conduct of the election campaign and casting and counting of votes, will be free and fair. However some doubt has been cast on this by the arrangements which have been made for the election committee election on 2 April. In at least one subsector only 2 polling stations have been provided for the whole of Hong Kong. The date of the election is a week-day. Hong Kong is made up of many islands and a mountainous hinterland with poor communications to its more remote areas. Providing polling stations only on Hong Kong Island and in the centre of Kowloon and holding the election on a week-day will make it impossible for many people to vote. If this is a sign of other defects still to be disclosed in the polling arrangements expectations of a fair poll may have to be revised.
29. Concern has also been aroused by the extreme hostility shown by both the Government and the chairman of the Election Commission to the presence of international observers. The chairman of the Commission has repeated stated that observers will not be allowed to enter either polling stations or the count, and has said that he would be thought " as stupid as a pig" if he allowed them.
30. Hong Kong has free and vigorous media, and the Government-owned Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) adopts an impartial approach modelled on the British BBC ( this has been much criticised by some pro-Beijing personalities who believe RTHK should be a Government propaganda tool).
31. Against this background the main aims of monitoring the election will be:-
(i) to assess whether the mechanics of the conduct of the election are free and fair;
(ii) to assess whether the electoral law permits a free and fair election;
(iii) to uphold the principle that international observers should be permitted to monitor the conduct of elections in Hong Kong as elsewhere.
32. It is hoped that international observers will pay particular attention to the arrangements for voting in the functional constituencies and the Election Committee. It is already clear that these are subject to serious abuses. The media have reported that one individual is holding 18 registered votes in a single constituency through his ownership of companies, including shelf companies apparently purchased specifically for the purpose. It is likely that there are many more such examples which have not yet come to light.
33. A list of suggested activities for international observers is attached.
SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS
At present it appears that international observers will not be permitted to enter the polling stations or the count. However it should be possible to obtain a clear picture of how the poll and count are being conducted by visiting the relevant locations and talking to a selection of those entering, including candidates and their polling or counting agents as well as voters.
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor will be arranging a programme of meetings with politicians and others closely involved in the election. This will aim to include the leaders of each of the parties listed in the election monitoring guide; the chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission; and academic and other commentators on the election.
In addition Human Rights Monitor will also aim to secure interviews with some of the organizations with votes in the functional constituencies and the election committee. At least one of the churches represented in the election committee has organised its own ballot to elect its nominee to the committee. Many corporate voters, in contrast, will probably not have any democratic element in the selection of their authorised representative. It is hoped that the observers will be able to gain important information about the manner in which these selections are made.
Past experience suggests that politicians of all parties will be glad to meet international observers. It may be however that some of those corporations which benefit most from corporate voting will be reluctant to answer questions about it. The Monitor will nevertheless try to arrange interviews with them.
There are many different kinds of voting system in use in the world. Almost every election system has its own unique features. However almost all systems currently in use can be described as either First Past the Post systems (FPTP) or as proportional representation systems.
Proportional representation systems are systems under which each political party receives seats in the legislature in proportion to the number of votes cast for it. Thus a party which obtains 40% of the popular vote will gain 40% of the seats.
First past the post systems are systems where each member of the legislature is elected from a single constituency, and in the election for that constituency the winner is the candidate who gains the most votes. Under this system a candidate does not need to obtain an overall majority of the votes. To win it is enough to gain more votes than any other candidate. So if there are three candidates and two of them get 32% of the vote each and the third candidate gets 35% of the vote the candidate with 35% will be the winner, although s/he does not have an overall majority of votes.
First Past the Post systems are found in the United Kingdom and those countries historically influenced by Britain, including the United States, Canada, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and many countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. They are used world-wide by 68 countries or territories.
Proportional representation systems (PR) are a common choice in many new democracies. Over 20 established democracies, and just over half of all democracies use some variant of PR. PR systems are dominant in Latin America and Western Europe, and make up a third of systems in Africa. The rationale in all PR systems except that in use in Hong Kong is to consciously translate a party’s share of the national vote into a corresponding proportion of Parliamentary seats. Seats are often allocated within regionally based multi-member constituencies, but in several countries with PR systems the overall allocation of seats is effectively determined by the national vote. A well-known example is the German electoral system. About 2/3rds of German members of Parliament are elected from single-member constituencies under a first past the post rule. However the remaining members are elected from party lists in proportion to the overall votes passed for each party, subject to a 5% threshold below which parties do not obtain representation.
The main advantages and disadvantages claimed for each of the 3 systems are described below.