07/31/2007, 00.00
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Constitutional reform: the government might manipulate consultation process

Green paper proposals are confusing and misleading. The government has not yet said how it will count the votes. Survey results have been manipulated in the past giving greater weight to more pro-government opinions.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Grey areas surrounding the green paper on electoral reform could allow the government to "repeat their tricks" and manipulate public opinion on issues during the public consultation process, top academics and lawmakers have warned. The green paper suggests ways to reform elections to the post of chief executive and to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), but provides for consultation period of only three months requiring that the final proposal to have public support of 60 per cent.

University of Hong Kong pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu noted however that the government has yet to say how it will evaluate and collate the submissions received.

In 1987 the British government “engineered the result of the analysis and lied with statistics,” Dr Chung said. It collated public responses into different categories, rather than simply count how many people supported a certain proposition.

Petitions were given less value because they were "products of mobilisation.” But "standard letters"—the method adopted by pro-government groups—were included in the higher class of submissions.

"I could see no difference in the nature of someone signing a petition form someone signing a standard letter. They should have been treated in the same category," Dr Chung said.

In the end the British authorities concluded in 1987 that the public was opposed to direct elections.

Today the Hong Kong government has not said how it will count the vote.

A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said two elements would play a critical role in the government's assessment of reform options, in addition to the written submissions.

One was opinion polls conducted by universities and think-tanks indicating whether there was 60 per cent support for any proposal. The other was whether such a proposal was likely to gain the support of two-thirds of the Legislative Council, an institution in which most members are already beholden to Beijing.

According to Dr Chung, the green paper's questions were "error-prone" and had "serious deficiencies" that would affect the results.

A poll about elections to the post of chief executive led to a split as to whether “establish a nominating committee directly in 2012"; "go through a transitional phase" before 2017 or after 2017.

On the LegCo election, 42 per cent of respondents wanted universal suffrage in 2012; 31 per cent said they preferred it in 2016; and 19 per cent after 2016.

Altogether this means that 92 per cent of all respondents want universal suffrage, but the fragmented results could be used to argue that since there is no absolute majority reform can be further postponed.

Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said the University of Hong Kong survey showed the structure of the questions in the green paper could be misleading and could produce lower public support on universal suffrage.

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