The government will allow the District Council election to go ahead on November 24 as scheduled, provided three conditions are met, including the cessation of violence, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said on Monday, as Hong Kong continued to witness intense clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators.
In a media session, Nip said the government’s position is very clear－do its best to ensure that the election “will be held smoothly according to schedule on November 24 so that all the 4.13 million registered electors can exercise their right to vote and choose their district representatives.”
But for the polling to take place in a safe and orderly manner, there are three prerequisites, he said.
First and foremost, “violence and all kinds of duress” must stop immediately, said the senior government official in charge of election affairs.
The second requirement is that blockage of tunnels, highways and roads should cease, Yip said, while another condition is that “destruction of transport facilities should halt altogether.”
Nip said there were three possible case scenarios for suspending the polling.
If an unexpected situation takes place at an individual polling station, the electoral officer in charge will decide whether to call a halt to voting, he said.
In the event that all of the polling stations of a constituency fail to operate, a decision will be left to the Electoral Affairs Commission, the government minister said.
As to whether the whole election should be halted, the issue will be decided by the Chief Executive according to the law, Nip told reporters.
If a polling station is forced to close before voting ends at 10:30 pm as planned, it will resume operation on the backup voting date of Dec. 1
If a polling station suspends voting starting 2 pm, voting will resume at 2 pm on the backup voting date.
Nip made it clear that the government will not set a deadline for the purpose of deciding whether to postpone the DC election or not but will conduct a risk assessment every day.
That said, Nip admitted that the situation in the past weekend has reduced the chance of holding the election as scheduled, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
“I am very worried and anxious about this. I must say that postponing the election is a difficult decision to make and we will not take this step unless absolutely necessary,” he said.
Anti-government protesters clashed violently with the police in the past few days, causing the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) to become a de facto battlefield. Meanwhile, violent scenes such as setting fires and vandalism were also seen in multiple districts.
Nip pointed out if polling stations are attacked or destroyed, the DC election will unavoidably be postponed.
Meanwhile, he warned that anyone using coercion, force or threats to affect others’ voting decisions will face a fine of up to HK$50,000 and up to seven years in prison upon conviction.
“The government is now working in full steam in preparing for the election, but the urgent task is to stop violence. I appeal to every member of the community to disassociate themselves from violence. I also call on people with different backgrounds and political views including political parties, professionals, commentators to say no to violence clear and loud.”
Nip revealed that the government has drawn up measures to ensure safety of polling stations on the election day, including enlarging both the no canvassing zones and the no staying zones, and deploying sufficient number of police officers, Civil Aid Service staff and security contractors at polling stations.
Also, the Fire Services Department will set up rapid response teams to deal with any fire alarms.
Nip’s boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, said separately that the administration could make an assessment of the situation in relation to the DC polls every day in the coming days.
Speaking to reporters ahead of an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said the government still hopes to hold the DC elections as scheduled, but the important thing is that the voting can take place in a fair, just and safe environment.
Authorities are still assessing the situation as of today, and will possibly make evaluations on a daily basis in the run-up to the polling day, Lam said.
The chief executive urged people to make concerted efforts to put an end to all violent acts, and activities such as road blockages and vandalism of public transport facilities.
If there is traffic chaos and disruption, polling station staff members may not be able reach their duty locations, making it difficult for the race to be held, Lam said.
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