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Greater Bay Area

Could call to give vote to half a million Hongkongers in mainland China open door to voting rights for all citizens overseas?

Pro-government lawmakers raise issue of citizens working in Greater Bay Area, while pan-democrats say any change should also apply to those working in other countries

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 11:26pm

The Hong Kong government has said it would consider giving voting rights to hundreds of thousands of citizens living over the border in mainland China, prompting the immediate question of whether this would be extended globally.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said at the weekly Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday that any arrangements for polling outside Hong Kong must be critically examined.

“[We must consider things] such as how the polling and counting process could be effectively monitored as well as transportation of ballot papers and boxes to and from polling stations outside Hong Kong,” Nip said, adding that the relevant electoral legislation, any emergency risks and unforeseen incidents also had to be considered.

Nip was responding to a question from Starry Lee Wai-king, the chairwoman of the city’s biggest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Lee’s colleague Gary Chan Hak-kan said promoting the Greater Bay Area while denying voting rights to those who worked there was contradictory.

“There are an estimated 500,000 Hongkongers studying, working and retiring north of the border,” Chan said. “On the one hand you promote the Greater Bay Area [national scheme] and encourage Hongkongers to go there for development … but on the other hand, you deprive them of their voting rights.”

The Hong Kong government has no official figure of citizens residing in mainland China. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of Hong Kong permanent residents usually staying in Guangdong was estimated at 531,000 last year, with 42 per cent aged below 15.

The Greater Bay Area national development is a plan to link Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong province to forge an economic powerhouse.

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Nip said the government had taken note of the issues and a study was under way. As it stands, only Hong Kong permanent residents who “ordinarily live” in the city are eligible to vote and they require proof of a local residential address to register.

“As the Greater Bay Area develops, there will be more and more Hongkongers living in mainland China making frequent trips back and forth… how their voting rights will be affected needs to be studied,” Nip said, stressing it was a complicated issue with legal considerations.

“Our youngsters do not only go to the Greater Bay Area for work, but also to Taiwan and all over the world. If you launch such a policy, it must apply worldwide,” pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok said.

Nip reiterated that the focus was on Hongkongers living across the border but travelling back frequently, but said Mok’s concerns would be included in the study.

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Meanwhile, Nip refused to say when by-elections for the vacant seat in Kowloon West would be held, after ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai’s earlier announced she would no longer contest the court’s decision to eject her from Legco.

He said it normally takes six months for the commission to prepare for an election, but refused to say if by-elections for both vacant seats – the other in New Territories East – would be held at the same time.

Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei