Expenses ceiling of HK$6m challenged

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am

Who can afford election expenses of HK$6 million, the price of some flats, to run for a Legco seat?

That was the question many were asking when lawmakers examined details of the election plan for the chief executive and Legislative Council in 2012 unveiled by the constitutional affairs chief, Stephen Lam Sui-lung, on Saturday.

Critics said putting the figure so high for candidates running for the five district council constituency seats would favour the rich and powerful parties.

Even though a slate of candidates - a maximum of five - can claim up to half of their campaign expenditure, if they secure at least 5 per cent of valid votes, such a team would still have to fork out HK$3 million.

But Lam said that as the candidates had to appeal to 3.2 million voters, given that a single constituency has been adopted for these five seats, the cap was reasonable.

It will create five 'super-lawmakers' - functional constituency legislators who are elected by far more people than those in the geographical constituencies. As everyone will be able to vote, a candidate has to secure about 300,000 votes to get a seat. Other lawmakers in geographical constituencies can land a seat with a few tens of thousands of votes.

Lam said it would be dangerous to set too low a limit as candidates could find themselves infringing the law.

'The current expenses for a candidate in direct elections in each of the five constituencies range from HK$1.5 to 2.6 million, so in a single constituency election that would be HK$10 million,' he said in a radio programme.

But Lam said another method was actually adopted. The HK$6 million assumes each candidate posts one pamphlet to each of the 3.2 million voters. This would cost about HK$3 million, with HK$2 million or so going on publicity events. This was rounded up to HK$6 million.

He said setting the figure too low could put some candidates in a difficult spot since they may only realise they were short of money in the middle of the election campaign. Exceeding the expense limit is an offence under the election ordinance.

Lawmakers from various parties said HK$6 million was too much for the average district councillor.

The chairwoman of the Liberal Party, Miriam Lau Kin-yee, said the government should raise the election subsidy to HK$20 per vote, not HK$12 per vote as stated in the poll plan.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, chairman of the Democratic Party, said the government should raise the ratio of claimable expenses to 75 per cent and offer special subsidies.

'I understand 3.2 million voters is a large cohort, but it is difficult for most of the parties to pay,' said Ho, whose party was instrumental in pushing forward this 'one person, two votes' proposal in June.

'Other than the current subsidy of a complementary round of postal services, can the government also help candidates to print one standard pamphlet? And it should also ensure sufficient air time in electronic media for candidates to reach out to the voters.'

Ho was also dissatisfied with the nomination threshold. He said requiring a candidate to be nominated by a minimum of 15 elected lawmakers was too high and it would shut out smaller parties. He would join other parties to push for an amendment to lower the threshold to 10.