ICAC warns against online poll campaigns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 February, 2011, 12:00am

Political cyber-enthusiasts beware: launching an online campaign for your favourite candidate in the forthcoming district council elections could land you in court.

Any activity which incurs financial costs without authorisation from the candidate could render people liable for a criminal offence, the Independent Commission Against Corruption warned.

The ICAC is conveying this message as part of an early publicity campaign to ensure that the elections in November are corruption-free.

The anti-graft agency, which is also responsible for enforcing laws against illegal conduct in elections, says it is illegal for anyone to incur election expenses without the written consent from the candidate. This applies to any form of publicity, including online content.

'Anyone is free to express views and, under most circumstances, these will not incur any financial costs,' said Lily Chung Lai-tuen, programme co-ordinator (elections) of the ICAC's community relations department. 'For example, if you just share your opinions about a candidate on a social networking website it is OK, but if you create a website specifically for a candidate, that may incur expenses.'

Producing a video promoting a contender in the elections was another scenario in which costs could be incurred, she said.

Incurring election expenses without proper authorisation amounts to illegal conduct under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of three years and a fine of HK$200,000.

In the district council polls, a candidate has a limit of HK$48,000 to spend on a campaign.

Chung said the ICAC would soon issue letters to political parties and groups to invite prospective candidates to attend briefings on electoral laws.

Publicity is under way several months earlier compared with past elections because it is expected the forthcoming polls will attract more participants than previous ones.

In the previous district council elections in 2007, the agency began its promotion campaign about six months before polling day.

'We believe there will be more candidates this year, with many first-timers who may not be familiar with election laws,' Chung said.

The addition of seven seats - raising the number from 405 to 412 in the next term - new political groups and the future creation of five new district council-sector seats for the Legislative Council were the reasons behind the ICAC's anticipation of keen competition for the district council polls, Chung said.