The government hopes to see the vacant seats in the Legislative Council filled as soon as possible since legal processes related to disqualified lawmakers have largely been completed, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday.
The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), chaired by Justice Barnabas Fung Wah, will hold a meeting this week to discuss arrangements for by-elections, and an announcement could follow soon after, Lam said.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a regular Executive Council meeting, Lam said matters such as when and how the by-elections should take place can only be decided by the EAC, and not her or the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.
While expressing hope that the Legco vacancies can be filled quickly, the chief executive indicated that the preparations could take six months.
By-elections have become necessary after six opposition members were disqualified for not taking their oaths properly during a ceremony in October last year.
The seats left vacant were those held by Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang (New Territories East), Yau Wai-ching (Kowloon West), Nathan Law Kwun-chung (Hong Kong Island), Edward Yiu Chung-yim (architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency), “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (New Territories East) and Lau Siu-lai (Kowloon West).
All of them were disqualified by the High Court after the government launched legal action for improper oath-taking.
Law and Yiu have decided not to appeal the court verdict, while Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching saw their applications for a review rejected by the Court of Final Appeal.
Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai lodged appeals on Monday in a bid to get their disqualification overturned, leaving at least four seats a certainty for bypolls.
It is believed that the government is inclined to fill the four seats before deciding on the other two, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
About 400 polling stations may be needed for the by-elections, which may require the EAC to recruit and train nearly 14,000 people to oversee the exercise, according to Lam.
The chief executive revealed that some organizations related to the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency had written to her to express their concern about having no representation in Legco at the moment.
The organizations want to see someone representing their sector soon, so that he or she can take up matters of concern with the government and try to get issues resolved.
Holden Chow Ho-ding, a lawmaker from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the government should not rule out the possibility of conducting bypolls for the six seats in one go.
Holding elections for all the seats at the same time will help cut costs if the appellate court gives rulings quickly on the Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai review petitions, he said.
Lawmaker and Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the administration must offer a clear explanation on arrangements being made for the by-elections and that it must assure voters that it will not try to affect the bypolls through some small tricks.
Chan Kin-por, who chairs the Legco’s finance committee, said in reply to a query from lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick that the committee will keep holding its meetings despite the six vacant seats.
The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau told lawmakers in April that it has reserved as much as about HK$320 million for the purpose of the by-elections, Apple Daily noted.
It remains to be seen whether the actual expenses will exceed that amount.
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