Vote-rigging fears must be addressed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Hong Kong's elections are among the cleanest in the region. There is room for more democracy, but the elections we currently have are generally fair and open. Clear rules set out what is permissible and there is little abuse or corruption. Our vigilant and open society is sensitive to any problem. But confidence in our elections has now been dented by irregularities discovered in the District Council polls two weeks ago.

Some members of the business community appear to have breached the law by registering their business rather than their residential address. Worryingly, as many as 60,000 polling cards could not reach registered voters at the address provided. Many of these, presumably, are simply because of the voter's failure to update their address. But there are some cases which are suspicious and give cause for concern. A residential flat in Mei Foo, for example, is home to 13 voters with seven different surnames, according to the register. Other voters have been found to have registered the address of a boat, vacant land and even a cinema. In some cases, the address simply does not exist. There appear to be at least 500 dubious registrations.

These cases have prompted fears of vote-rigging. Some who lost in the polls have already lodged complaints. It is difficult to assess whether the irregularities have had any impact on the outcome of the election. And there have been similar complaints in the past, but not as many. Any suggestion that our elections may have been compromised must be investigated. Law breakers should be brought to justice if there is sufficient evidence. The current registration system is fairly simple - and lax; so much so that it may open to abuse. Permanent residents who are aged 18 or above are only required to fill in a form giving details such as their name, identity card number and home address and make a declaration that the information provided is true and accurate. Although the making of a false statement is liable to a fine up to HK$5,000 and six months' jail, the applicant is not required to produce any proof of address. There is clearly room for improvement. It is good that suspicious cases are now being pursued by the authorities and reform considered.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen seemed to gloss over the concerns when asked about them at an early stage. He may be right to say every election draws thousands of complaints and that the electoral results are bound to upset some people. But it would be wrong to dismiss the allegations simply because some were made by pan-democrats defeated in the polls. Maintaining a corruption-free culture requires strong vigilance. Every effort has to be made to restore confidence in our electoral system. The complaints must be investigated and the system reviewed to ensure abuses are curbed.