21 February 2019
The Hong Kong government should uphold the "one country, two systems" principle by insisting on a fair and open election. Photos: Bloomberg, HKEJ
The Hong Kong government should uphold the "one country, two systems" principle by insisting on a fair and open election. Photos: Bloomberg, HKEJ

HK government should uphold election neutrality and fairness

After chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam denied having asserted in a closed-door event that she was the “chosen one”, a prominent pro-Beijing figure was quoted as saying that it would be disloyal to Beijing if election committee members did not nominate the former chief secretary.

Indeed, Lam’s camp appears to be playing dirty this early in the race for the city’s top job by attempting to put words in Beijing’s mouth.

Amid such deceptive tactics, the Hong Kong SAR government led by Leung Chun-ying should perform its duty of upholding the neutrality, fairness and transparency of the election.

On Tuesday, members of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce met with Lam and former financial secretary John Tsang separately.

One of the chamber’s members, Chan Wing-kee, was quoted as saying in the meeting that “whoever does not support Lam would be demonstrating disloyalty to the central government in Beijing”.

That’s a very strong statement, if Chan indeed said those words, for he is not only a member of the election committee but also a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee.

Asked by reporters about the quote, Chan did not make a direct denial, but he also avoided making a categorical statement, saying he didn’t want to mess things up.

This is the second time that Lam and her supporters have labeled her as Beijing’s chosen one. 

Such statements confirm the strong support of many Beijing loyalists to her candidacy, but for most of the Hong Kong people, they wish the upcoming exercise, despite it being a small-circle election, is done in a fair and transparent manner.

Although Hong Kong’s next leader will be chosen by only 1,200 members of the election committee, who are mostly Beijing loyalists, the people hope that the electors can vote freely according to their conscience, and not dictated upon by the central government.

Hong Kong, known as a city that abides by the rule of law, should be able to conduct an election that is based on existing laws and regulations.

The controversial statements purportedly coming from Lam’s camp besmirch the image of fairness in the upcoming electoral exercise.

In fact, such statements could be in violation of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.

The law, enforced by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), aims to uphold fair and clean public elections and prevent corrupt and illegal conduct during elections.

Specifically, the statements attributed to Lam’s camp could have breached Sections 13 and 14 of the ordinance, which list as offenses “corrupt conduct to use or threaten to use force or duress against electors” and “corrupt conduct to engage in certain deceptive behaviour in relation to electors”.

Also, the statements could be in violation of Section 26 of the ordinance, which prohibits “false or misleading statements about a candidate”.

Some political commentators have urged members of the election committee to come out if they feel they have been threatened by supporters of Lam or any other candidate, and report such violations of the election code to the ICAC.

On Wednesday the localist group Neo Democrats filed a complaint with the ICAC over Lam’s purported comments about being Beijing’s “chosen one”, accusing her of violating the election ordinance.

Gary Fan, spokesman for the group, said Lam’s remarks would unduly affect the voting preferences of members of the election committee that will select the next chief executive.

Retired judge Woo Kwok-hing, who is also running for the post, said he might file a complaint against Lam if there was sufficient evidence.

During a meeting of the Legislative Council’s panel on constitutional affairs, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Raymond Tam, said he will follow up on the matter if a complaint is lodged.

Tam said anyone who has been “legally deemed” a candidate would be breaking the law if they spread false or misleading information.

But he did not answer when asked if this applied to comments made before a person becomes a candidate.

Of course, it is difficult to gather evidence of how Beijing authorities are attempting to manipulate the upcoming chief executive election.

But many published local media reports point the finger at the liaison office, which is said to be making calls to election committee members three or four times a day to say that “Lam is the chosen one” and urge them to nominate her.

Since the nominations are on record, the liaison office is taking advantage of such a mechanism to force the election committee members to show their loyalty by nominating Lam in exchange for Beijing’s blessing of their business or political career.

Isn’t that a patent violation of local laws?

For its part, the Hong Kong government should uphold the One Country, Two Systems principle by insisting on a fair and open election.

It should maintain its neutrality in the political exercise, and uphold the election laws.

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EJ Insight writer

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