Election candidates should be allowed to adopt their own strategies
There is no need to consider banning those in a race from telling voters that they are pulling out
Candidates campaigning on an equal footing is the hallmark of open and fair elections. That is why there are spending caps and rules prohibiting bribery, vote-rigging, false claims and the like. The watchdog in charge of the city’s election is taking a step further, asking the government to consider banning those in the race from telling voters that they are pulling out.
The suggestion came after a group of pan-democrats had openly abandoned canvassing at the eleventh hour when running for the hotly contested Legislative Council “super seats” in September last year. They did so to help consolidate votes for some front-running allies amid fierce competition with the pro-establishment camp. But their rivals lashed out at the move, saying it would confuse voters and be unfair to others.
Separately, a Liberal Party candidate also claimed he had been intimidated by someone whom he would not identify and had stopped canvassing. Currently there is no way for candidates to drop out after nominations have closed.
The Electoral Affairs Commission is of the view that it is necessary to stop candidates from making claims that may affect others. But it seems difficult to determine whether other candidates have been affected as a result, directly or indirectly. In the case of the pan-democrats, they tried to consolidate the votes by urging voters to give up on some weaker contestants in their own camp. The last-minute move was arguably nothing more than a legitimate electoral strategy.
There could well be many manoeuvrings by other camps behind the scenes, too. Indeed, voters are often bombarded with confusing appeals from different candidates. Unless there is an overriding need to regulate, candidates should be entitled to adopt the electoral strategies they prefer. The proposed ban appears to be neither justified nor feasible. After all, there is nothing to stop a candidate from abandoning canvassing privately. The authorities should avoid weighing in lest it give the impression that our elections are becoming unduly restrictive.