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Legislative Council elections 2016

Hong Kong poll bosses call for election ‘pull-out’ ban

Electoral Affairs Commission says ballots could appear compromised by candidates who claim to have abandoned the race to help political allies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 10:28pm

Hong Kong’s election watchdog has urged the government to amend laws banning candidates from announcing they are pulling out of polls, to shore up the polls’ integrity.

The call from the Electoral Affairs Commission comes months after six pro-democracy candidates, including Labour Party chairwoman Suzanne Wu Sui-shan and independent Paul Zimmerman, gave up the Legislative Council race at the last minute to consolidate votes for their allies against fierce competition from the pro-establishment camp.

Also during September’s elections, former Liberal Party aspirant Ken Chow Wing-kan dropped a bombshell by announcing he would stop campaigning, for fear of “people close to him paying a heavy price”, sparking speculation that he was being pressured by Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, which allegedly coordinated the pro-establishment campaign.

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In a 182-page report on the 2016 Legco elections, released on Tuesday, the commission reiterated there was no mechanism for candidates to pull out of the race once nominations close, and argued that claims by candidates that they have pulled out could confuse voters and damage the integrity of the polls.

“If a candidate openly claims to ‘abandon the election’ without making public the reasons behind his or her move, it would inevitably arouse unnecessary speculation... and [be] unfair to the other candidates or the electors,” the report read.

“There may even be public perception that the integrity of the election is affected.”

The watchdog called on the government to consider amending the existing laws to ban candidates from publicly announcing their decision to quit the race, to stop them using those claims to affect other candidates’ bids.

But Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok cast doubt on the feasibility of such a ban.

“A candidate could still de facto withdraw from the race without public announcement, by ceasing his or her electioneering,” he said.

“The person in that case would not have breached the law but those who publicly announce their withdrawal will. Is that fair?”

He also accused the government of exhausting all means to twist the election rules after pan-democrats scored a victory in the September polls.

The pro-democracy bloc eventually secured three of the five “super seats” – a functional constituency contested by district councillors and returned by 3.5 million registered voters who do not have a vote in other trade-based constituencies – after three underdogs withdrew ahead of the race.

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Wu, of the Labour Party, said those who pulled out of the race had already paid the political price in their constituencies, saying that some voters had questioned her sincerity in running.

She also said the government should instead show more effort investigating the culprits who threatened Chow.

Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, agreed with the commission, that withdrawal claims could confuse voters.

And NeoDemocrat Kwan Wing-yip, one of the candidates who pulled out of the “super seat” race, also welcomed the idea, saying he was forced to drop his bid back then because of pressure from social media.