Hong Kong pan-democrats question provision of HK$320 million for Legislative Council by-elections
Two seats are up for grabs following disqualification of pro-independence pair; government is now taking court action to bar four pan-democrats from legislature
A sum of HK$320 million has been reserved by the government in the coming fiscal year for possible by-elections, after two pro-independence lawmakers-elect were disqualified by a court over their anti-China antics last year.
Four other legislators also face disqualification in another case brought by the government.
Pan-democrat lawmakers questioned whether the Registration and Electoral Office needed to reserve so much money, but pro-establishment legislators agreed with the move, saying the amount was only earmarked and the actual spending could be less.
In October last year, Younspiration duo Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching triggered a political storm as they pledged allegiance to a “Hong Kong nation” and used a derogatory term to insult China when lawmakers were being sworn in.
It prompted China’s top legislative body to interpret the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution – making “insincere disqualification” punishable by instant disqualification.
The pair were later stripped of their seats by the High Court.
The government later launched a fresh round of legal challenges to the oaths taken by four pan-democrat legislators – “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim.
They were accused of adding wording to their oaths, reading it too slowly or adding emphasis to particular phrases.
Ahead of special Finance Committee meetings on the budget, which start on Friday, lawmakers filed a series of written questions for various departments to explain their spending proposals. Some queries focused on how much money would be used to stage by-elections.
In a written reply to those questions, chief electoral officer Wong See-man revealed that about HK$320 million was reserved for “the preparation and conduct of any possible” polls.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu told the Post that officials needed to explain why they needed to reserve so much.
In a reference to the New Territories East by-election in February last year, which he won, Yeung said: “That by-election involving about one million voters cost HK$70 million. That’s HK$70 for each voter on average ... If you divide HK$320 million by [HK$70], that’s more than four million,” Yeung said. There are currently about 3.8 million voters in Hong Kong.
The Legco general election in September last year cost HK$596 million, while the 2010 by-election forced by the resignation of five lawmakers, who wanted to trigger what they called a de-facto referendum on Hong Kong’s democratisation, cost HK$126 million.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Jimmy Ng Wing-ka disagreed with Yeung’s argument.
“The government was not saying they are going to use HK$320 million. They are just reserving it because the court cases on the four lawmakers are still ongoing ... and there is also the factor of inflation,” Ng told the Post.
“I hope we can learn a lesson because this money didn’t need to be spent if lawmakers took their oaths sincerely.”
In January, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the by-elections to fill Baggio Leung and Yau’s seats, in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon West constituencies respectively, might not be held until the voters’ register is updated in July.
Meanwhile, the government also revealed that its five mainland offices, in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wuhan, have set aside HK$40.93 million for organising activities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1997 handover.
These activities include exhibitions, cultural performances, gala dinners and youth or student programmes.