Tsang and team confirm they won't vote
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his ministers have announced they will not vote in tomorrow's Legislative Council by-elections, ending weeks of speculation.
In a statement last night, Tsang said the mainstream community view was that the by-elections could have been avoided.
'Many regard it as an abuse of the electoral system and a waste of taxpayers' money,' he said. 'In view of the unique nature of this by-election and after careful consideration, I have decided not to vote in this by-election. All members of my political team share this view and, of their own accord, have also decided not to vote.'
He said civil servants should not be affected by his decision.
'It is entirely their own decision whether or not to vote, which will be duly respected by the government.'
In previous polls the government has encouraged people to vote. There has been much speculation of a government boycott because of pressure from Beijing.
Members of the public do not seem very keen to vote either - a tracking poll released yesterday showed turnout could be as low as 22 per cent. If the poll is accurate, the five legislators who resigned to force the by-elections will be voted back in.
The telephone poll, conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, questioned 1,243 eligible voters between May 5 and 12. The sampling error was plus or minus 3 per cent.
Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, who is in charge of the programme, said: 'Looking at all three stages of the survey together, one can say that there is not much change during the campaign period, and voters' propensity to vote has remained low.'
He predicted turnout of between 22 per cent and 29 per cent. Turnout in the Legco elections two years ago was 45.2 per cent. A by-election in 2007 saw turnout of 52.1 per cent.
Five lawmakers - three from the League of Social Democrats and two from the Civic Party - resigned in January to force the by-elections, which they regard as a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation. Beijing has denounced the tactics as unconstitutional.
Twenty-four candidates are running, but none are from the government-friendly camp.
Last night 700 people rallied in Centenary Garden, Tsim Sha Tsui, shouting, 'We want a referendum', 'No to functional constituencies' and 'We shall fight to the end'.
The league and Civic Party, which organised the rally, urged people to vote and said the higher the turnout the greater would be the pressure on the government and Beijing to allow Hong Kong full democracy.
Wong Yuk-man, one of the league lawmakers who quit and who is seeking re-election tomorrow, said the government had done all it could to denounce the by-elections.
'This by-election is legal. As chief executive of the Hong Kong government, [Tsang] should encourage people to vote to exercise their civil rights instead of discouraging people from voting,' Wong said.
He is not worried about the findings of Chung's opinion polls. 'You cannot trust these polls. Many people tell me in person that they will come out to vote,' Wong said.
James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University, said last night's statement might put some people off voting.
Commenting on the decision to issue the statement late last night, Ivan Choy Chi- keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the government was trying to avoid media coverage.