Why is the official election watchdog refusing to watch?

January 26, 2018 17:09
As the March 11 Legco by-elections draw nearer, the Electoral Affairs Commission appears incapable of stating what the ground rules are. Photo: HKEJ

Who qualifies to stand as a candidate in Legislative Council elections? It’s a simple question that needs to be answered by the Electoral Affairs Commission.

However, as the March 11 by-elections draw nearer, the Commission appears incapable of stating what the ground rules are. Instead of openly publicizing the rules, it is currently saying that it is seeking legal advice from the highly compromised Department of Justice.

At other times the EAC has said that eligibility is determined by the returning officers in each district and that it, the body responsible for the conduct of elections, has no role to play in the nomination process. The returning officers in each district are civil servants who, like all civil servants, are scrupulous in ensuring that they do not upset their bosses.

Matters came to a head in the last round of elections when a number of candidates were disqualified because of suspected advocacy of independence for Hong Kong. Subsequently, a new rule has been introduced, described as a loyalty pledge, which all potential candidates have to sign before joining the race.

This requirement, although rather dubious, at least establishes some parameters for the conduct of the nomination process. However, it now appears that returning officers have been granted powers to determine the level of sincerity of those signing these pledges.

In other words, as matters stand, not only is the process arbitrary, it is also most definitely not transparent.

In the absence of clear guidelines there is considerable speculation that Edward Yiu will be denied permission to run on behalf of the democratic camp in the Kowloon West constituency.

Yiu is apparently vulnerable as he is one of the six lawmakers expelled from the legislature. He previously represented the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency. He was accused of improperly taking his oath of office and is now being hounded by pro-government supporters who, conjuring up a non-existent rule, claim that his expulsion means that he should not be allowed to contest a Legco election during the council’s current term of office and possibly beyond.

Separately, Agnes Chow, a founder of Demosistō and standing on behalf of the democratic camp in Hong Kong Island, is being questioned over the extent of her sincerity as she is suspected of harboring what Beijing calls "separatist tendencies". So it is quite possible that a faceless returning officer will, without the need for justification, determine that she is not sincere in making a loyalty pledge.

As the nomination process is obscure it may just be that there are some secret rules, but even in Hong Kong’s severely constrained electoral system surely it is incumbent on those responsible for elections to be entirely transparent about their operation.

So, why is all this happening? The answer, which most sensible people already understand, is that the government and its masters in Beijing know that the stubborn people of Hong Kong, when given a chance, consistently give the majority of the popular vote to democrats.

This is why elections to the legislature are organized to ensure that the outcome of the popular vote is not reflected in the composition of the council as pro-government legislators can form a majority by filling the seats in the rotten boroughs of the functional constituencies that are exquisitely constructed to ensure that only government supporters can succeed.

However, the powers that be now want to go even further to reduce the democrats’ influence and to ensure that the public’s views are reflected as little as possible in the legislature, thus we have this latest ploy aimed at cutting off democratic candidates before they even get to the starting post.

If the three members of the EAC have the smallest residue of self-respect they will intervene and, as a minimum, insist on a transparent system for the nomination process. Otherwise, what’s the point of a so-called independent regulator, which refuses to regulate and says it is powerless to supervise?

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author