Did election strategies in Hong Kong undermine fair play?
Ho Lok Sang says some pan-democrats may have indirectly flouted campaign budget limits which, when coupled with the behaviour of some candidates in the run-up to the polls, does not augur well for the city’s future
Elections are supposed to be fair, as fair play is fundamental to democracy. But, unfortunately, the Legislative Council election has been marred by the strange behaviour of some candidates, as well as a case of possible attempted bribery.
According to the rules, candidates who stand for direct elections are subject to a campaign budget ceiling of HK$3.03 million, while those who campaign for the district council functional constituency seats, the so-called “super seats”, must not spend more than HK$6.93 million. These ceilings are there to ensure fair elections for all, whether or not they have deep pockets.
The 2016 election attracted an unprecedented number of candidates. Two days before election day, five pan-democratic candidates threw in the towel, and asked supporters to vote instead for fellow pan-democrats who were still running.
Trying to do so as part of an election strategy would have been perfectly acceptable before the race. However, such actions just two days before election day is unfair; it raises questions about whether the campaign expenses of the exiting candidate should count towards the expenses of the remaining candidate, who benefited from the exit.
The pan-democrats certainly know the possible effects of too many candidates chasing the same pool of supporters. A recent article complained that the pro-establishment camp violated the spirit of free elections by trying to persuade Bernard Lim Wan-fung not to enter the race in the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, so he would not challenge the incumbent Tony Tse Wai-chuen. But, as long as persuasion remains just that, there is nothing wrong.
In fact, dropping out is more likely to be part of a strategy. If this strategy is allowed, it would render campaign budget limits ineffective.
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Then there is the strange case of Ken Chow Wing-kan, who dropped out after declaring that he was under a lot of pressure and did not want to expose his family to risks. Chow was running under the Liberal Party flag for a seat in New Territories West. At a press conference, he played a recording indicating that a member of the campaign team working for Junius Ho Kwan-yiu was calling other team members to “pursue” Chow before and after the election forum “until he had no mood for such forums any more”. The Post also reported that Chow said he was earlier approached by a middleman to quit the race for a hefty sum of money – double the amount of his election expenses. The Independent Commission Against Corruption has now taken up the case.
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On top of that, several candidates who declared they would abide by the three Basic Law articles singled out by the Electoral Affairs Commission before their candidacies were approved have expressed support for Hong Kong’s de facto independence from China. The government says it reserves the right “to follow up” with these individuals for violating their vows. Exactly what this means remains to be seen.
All this suggests there could be storms ahead. Several of the new young legislators-elect have said they would step up the fight against the government. Youngspiration’s Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang said he would filibuster and stop policies that do not benefit Hong Kong, citing the copyright bill as an example. But is it really a bad law? Who should decide? It was supported by many Hongkongers, including Winnie Tam Wan-chi, chairperson of the Bar Association. Should one person have veto power over such an important piece of legislation?
All in all, Hong Kong’s future is not brighter after the election.
Ho Lok Sang is the dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education and adjunct professor of economics at Lingnan University