22 October 2016
Voters were reportedly treated to free dinners, food packages, and red packets, which came along with cheat sheets for certain pro-establishment candidates. Photos: GovHK, Facebook
Voters were reportedly treated to free dinners, food packages, and red packets, which came along with cheat sheets for certain pro-establishment candidates. Photos: GovHK, Facebook

Will it be a fair election for all candidates?

It’s no secret that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are doing everything they can to ensure victory for the pro-establishment candidates in Sunday’s Legislative Council election.

That’s to be expected; they want to control the legislative body and prevent pesky legislators from obstructing their pet projects and policies.

But as proven in past Legco elections, our voting mechanism is highly transparent and efficient, which means that although the competition among candidates has always been tough, we can be assured that those voted by the people always emerge as the winners.

At least that’s what most people believe.

But it seems that some forces are bent on violating the fairness of the game in order to achieve their end.

Even before the election, the authorities have already clipped the wings of the opposition by disqualifying candidates on the basis of their political beliefs, such as what happened to several pro-independence aspirants.

As such, you cannot blame some people for entertaining doubts on the integrity of the electoral mechanism, and for looking for flaws in the voting process from the setting up of polling stations to the counting of votes.

On Tuesday local blogger Chan Wan-hoi wrote that just before election day eight years ago, a friend told him he saw a genuine ballot at a private gathering in Shenzhen.

He quoted a former government official saying that the ballots were shipped to the homes of returning officers who would man the polling stations one week before the election.

The returning officers, in turn, had the responsibility to bring the ballots to the polling stations on election day.

Chan questioned the wisdom of such an arrangement, saying it could give rise to suspicions of vote-rigging as the returning officers could do anything with the ballots and distort the election results.

After Chan’s blog went viral on social media, the Registration and Electoral Office, which will administer the election on Sunday, said the government has already shipped the ballots and voter’s registration booklets to the homes of 600 returning officers, who are responsible for their safekeeping and bringing them to the polling stations on Sunday.

The government said such an arrangement has been in place for years, and it has been adopted to ensure that polling stations open on time, or at exactly 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

So Hong Kong people can only trust their civil servants to carry out their duties faithfully and ensure the fairness of the election.

Still, the arrangement has raised doubts and suspicions, especially in the light of previous vote-rigging allegations.

Although the government has warned returning officers not to unseal the ballots before election day, no foolproof measure has been devised to ensure the safety of the ballots.

That could be a significant flaw in the mechanism as the returning officers have at least one week to do anything with those ballots and distort the election results.

Of course, Hong Kong civil servants are the best in the world – unless proven otherwise.

However, judging from the action of some returning officers, who used their authority to disqualify some candidates who they feel have not manifested allegiance to the Basic Law, these civil servants might allow their political stance to influence the performance of their duties in the election, or be persuaded to do so, and thus destroy the integrity of the ballot.

In fact, several cases of possible violations of the election law have been reported, but the government has not acted on those reports.

Early this week, a group called Confederacy of Hong Kong Shanwei Clansmen Limited distributed oatmeal and biscuits worth around HK$70 per package to elderly people in Kwun Tong and urged them to support pro-Beijing candidates in the election.

An elderly woman told reporters that she was reminded by members of the group to vote Paul Tse Wai-chun, who is known to have close ties with China’s Liaison Office, and Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

The group also distributed cheat sheets with the numbers “5” and “802”, which correspond to the candidate numbers of Tse and Lee, respectively, in the Kowloon East geographical constituency and the District Council (second) functional constituency.

Another pro-Beijing group also reportedly provided cheat sheets for all the constituencies to people attending a dinner on Tuesday night.

The cheat sheet, which was distributed to the guests outside the restaurant, was titled “Distributing Mid-Autumn Festival gifts”.

There were 22 such gifts for guests from New Territories East, a number which corresponds to DAB candidate Chan Hak-kan, who is candidate No. 22 in that constituency, and nine such gifts for guests from New Territories West, a number which corresponds to DAB candidate Leung Chi-cheung, who is candidate No. 9 in that constituency.

Some people said they received gift certificates for mooncakes and HK$500 red packets as well.

In short, the well-funded pro-Beijing camp is doing everything they could to ensure the victory of their candidates.

They have studied exactly how many votes are needed for each Legco seat and deployed their resources accordingly.

Some people would argue that the cheat sheets are nothing but a form of election campaign to ensure that voters know that those candidates are running in their respective constituencies.

But since they come with free dinners, giveaways and red packets, it can be argued as well that they constitute a form of vote-buying.

Even members of the media, whether wittingly or not, appear to be taking part in unfair electioneering.

For example, a free newspaper recently alleged that more than a thousand voters in the education functional constituency in the last election transferred their registration to the information technology functional constituency.

The newspaper said lawmaker Charles Mok, a pro-democracy candidate, was behind the mass transfer in a bid to mobilize his supporters to vote for him.

However, the government clarified that only 72 voters from the education sector transferred to the IT functional constituency.

The newspaper didn’t bother to make a clarification.

And so we have all these reports of vote-buying and manipulation in the run-up to the election.

The best thing we could do is to vote wisely, without fear or favor, and guard against any form of electoral fraud for that is the only way we can battle those forces who are bent on frustrating the will of the people.

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EJ Insight writer

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