Tsang's team may not vote in by-election if consensus reached

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen may announce that his team of political appointees is not voting in the May 16 Legco by-elections, if a consensus is reached among his ministers and aides over their intentions.

But pan-democrats and some government allies warned that on top of setting a bad precedent for the government's traditional stance of encouraging turnout in elections, such moves could be a threat to people's right to vote.

A pan-democrat politician yesterday said a political appointee had revealed that Tsang is to announce soon that his team of ministers, undersecretaries and political assistants would stay away from polling stations.

But a person with knowledge of the situation said any suggestion that Tsang had ordered his officials not to vote was groundless, adding that whether to vote or not, and who to vote for, would be left to political appointees.

'There exists no question about the chief executive affecting people's voting intentions under duress,' the person said.

But the person would not rule out the possibility of an announcement being made if a consensus to not vote was reached among the appointees.

Tsang last year announced a 'voluntary' pay cut for political appointees after they reached an agreement on the issue, despite some privately complaining that they had no choice but to follow the lead of their boss.

Electoral laws prohibit 'the use of force or duress' against anyone 'to induce him to vote or not to vote at an election'. In particular, the law warned that 'persons in position to exert pressure and influence on others', such as superiors over subordinates, 'should be careful not to breach the provisions'.

A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office reiterated Tsang's position that the election - which he described as 'a deliberately engineered one' through the resignation of five pan-democrat lawmakers to trigger what they see as a de facto referendum for universal suffrage - has a 'different texture' than a normal election.

Pan-democrat lawmakers vowed to demand an explanation from Tsang today when he appears in a Legco question-and-answer session. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said a 'dangerous precedence' would be set if the Tsang team announced it would not vote.

He said that even if the government said political appointees had voluntarily reached a consensus to not vote, they might still have been intimidated.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the Liberal Party whose leadership has decided not to vote in the by-election on the grounds that it was billed as a referendum rather than a normal by-election, nonetheless urged Tsang to 'let his team members decide for themselves' because they had a right to vote.

But Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and Wong Kwok-kin of the Federation of Trade Unions, said they would support any moves by political appointees to announce they would not vote.

Both Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok and Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, political assistant to the home affairs secretary, denied the government has asked them not to vote.

But Tsui said that he told Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing of his voting intentions because he was a member of the DAB. He declined to reveal his intention.