Hong Kong must remove doubts about the integrity of city's electoral rolls

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 1:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 11:07am

Elections in Hong Kong are generally seen as open and fair. But concerns were raised when the electoral rolls for the 2011 district council elections were found to have questionable voter registrations. The revelation prompted the government to tighten the overly loose process for eligible voters to sign up. Four years have passed and one would have thought any loopholes would have been plugged by now.

Regrettably, the situation with electoral rolls is still murky. The use of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as a residential address for voter registration, as reported by the South China Morning Post, is just one of the many queries found in the provisional electoral rolls for November's district council polls.

Ever since the records of 3.69 million voters - including 261,000 newly registered ones - were released for public inspection in late July, the media have unearthed a number of suspicious cases. These include mass registrations of ailing elderly citizens in nursing homes and individuals being re-registered in another constituency or signed up for the first time without their consent. Separately, the Democratic Party has found that at least 12 voters in Southern and Yau Tsim Mong districts claimed to live in flats that do not exist.

A significant surge in voter registration in an election year is not unusual; political parties and their affiliate groups are actively gathering new registrations through various channels. The increasingly charged political atmosphere might have also prompted more people to register to vote.

It is nonetheless intriguing that the number of elderly voters has jumped 19 per cent since 2012, outstripping the 3.3 per cent rise for the age group between 18 and 30 during the period. Because the registration system relies heavily on honesty and the procedures are fairly lax, abuses cannot be ruled out.

Whether the surge in registrations can be attributed to a general rise in an eagerness to vote or to irregularities should not be left in doubt. While the former will be a matter for political scientists to analyse, it is for the government to weed out illegal practices.

The importance of fair and open elections cannot be overstated. So small is the size of some district council precincts, that a few dozen votes could swing the outcome. At stake is the integrity of our elections. The election watchdog must screen out bogus registrations and punish offenders accordingly, lest confidence in our system is shaken.