Officials face by-elections dilemma

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 February, 2010, 12:00am

What do you do when your boss implies that voting in by-elections amounts to condoning an abuse of process, yet you have a statutory duty to promote elections?

This is the dilemma facing the government which is duty-bound to organise by-elections for five lawmakers who resigned last month, even though the chief executive says these are 'deliberately engineered' and he would have to think carefully about whether to vote.

One lawmaker from each geographical constituency has resigned to spark by-elections they argue will be a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation.

It is seen by the pro-establishment camp, government, and central authorities as a challenge to Beijing's authority on matters of political reform, as well as an abuse of the resignation and by-election procedure.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung was challenged yesterday at a meeting of the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee noted that an official government paper stated an extra HK$3 million had been earmarked to publicise the elections. 'So what is this money for? Is it to publicise the message of voting in the coming elections? Or to publicise the message that they should not vote? If you are publicising the voting in elections, then why is the chief executive taking the lead to urge people against it?'

Lam said 'publicity' merely meant providing information to registered voters. 'Whether they vote is up to the individual to decide.'

Government-friendly lawmakers passed a motion condemning the by-elections as an abuse of process and waste of public money. They called for an amendment to the law to prevent such resignations in future.

New Century Forum conducted a phone survey of 1,938 people between January 27 and last Thursday. Fifty-seven per cent said the law should be amended so legislators cannot run in a by-election after resigning; 29 per cent said it should not.