Spending cap on district council candidates raised
Ng Kang-chung and Tanna Chong
A plan to allow candidates in the November district council elections to spend more on their campaigns has been criticised for favouring 'richer parties'.
The proposal, outlined in a paper by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, would allow candidates to spend a maximum of HK$53,000, an increase of about 10 per cent.
The bureau says the increase was designed to keep pace with inflation, which is expected to have risen by a cumulative 11 per cent between 2008 and 2011.
The limit is meant to allow candidates to compete on a level playing field. It does not restrict how a candidate runs his campaign.
However, legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip, who recently quit the League of Social Democrats, said: 'I do not see any reason why one needs to spend so much for a small-scale election.'
In the previous election in 2007, the 18 districts had 405 constituencies, each with a population of about 17,000 to return one member.
However, many of the constituencies were decided by a candidate who secured no more than 1,000 votes.
Chan, who is also a Tsuen Wan district councillor, said he spent slightly over HK$10,000 in the previous election.
'A higher expense limit only favours those candidates from rich parties. They can spend more on publicity,' he said.
Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee agreed.
Lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, said: 'No matter what the expense cap is, it does not help the smaller parties. Some rich parties will give free services during non-election periods to canvass people's support,' said Fung, who is also a Sham Shui Po district councillor.
He cited as an example giving out roasted pork rice free to residents, apparently referring to a campaign in Sha Tin last month by the Liberal Party's James Tien Pei-chun to show care for the elderly.
However, the bureau paper said: 'About 20 per cent of the candidates in the 2007 election and 38 per cent of those in the six recent [district council] by-elections, spent more than 80 per cent of the election expenses limit in their electioneering activities.
'This fact lends support to a modest increase in the election expenses limit.'
It said competition in the elections was expected to be more intense this time.
The amount under the government proposal candidates can spend is HK$53,000, a rise of: 10%