Checks on village voters and candidates must be carried out
Ever since the first New Territories village resident representative elections took place in 2007, I have been asking the government for a clear interpretation of what is meant by 'sole or main home', which defines a person's residency status in the Village Representative Election Ordinance (CAP 576).
In order for a person to be able to vote in the resident representative election, he or she must have been a 'resident', that is, having a 'sole or main home' in the village, for the preceding three years (six years for a representative candidate).
Many names appearing on the electoral rolls for New Territories villages appear to be persons who live abroad or who only visit the village occasionally. These persons, to all intents and purposes, do not live in the village in any permanent sense. However, despite asking the Home Affairs Department, the Electoral Affairs Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Registration and Electoral Office, no-one will define what 'sole or main home' means in practical terms.
Returning officers do not carry out any kind of check on individuals putting their name forward for inclusion on an electoral roll or standing as a candidate and so it is up to members of the public to individually challenge persons who appear to be on the roll fraudulently.
Residency requirements have been tied down through precedent and policy for matters such as taxation and 'fruit money'. However, no definitions in terms of required number of days in residence or maximum days away from the 'home' have been drawn up to more closely define electoral residency requirements.
It is unrealistic to expect members of the public to individually challenge the many questionable names on New Territories village resident representative electoral rolls particularly as, firstly, 'sole or main home' seems capable of a wide variety of interpretations and, secondly, the government has most of the compelling evidence which could establish or refute 'residency' in the form of tax/utility bills and immigration records.
Will someone in government please define, in simply verifiable terms, what is meant by 'sole or main home' in relation to electoral residency requirements?
Accurate electoral rolls are a pre-requisite of any free and fair election and the government has a clear duty to ensure that electoral rolls are accurate and free of fraudulent entries.
Until a clear and unambiguous definition of 'residence' in a village is defined by policy or precedent, there will always be unanswered questions concerning the eligibility of some candidates and many thousands of voters in New Territories resident representative elections.
David Newbery, Hoi Ha Village