Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Not enough polling stations for surprise turnout at Hong Kong by-election primary, pro-democracy organisers say

Power of Democracy co-founder Joseph Cheng happy that 26,000 voters took part but says there were limited resources in terms of funds and manpower

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:22pm

A turnout of 26,000 voters caught organisers by surprise on Sunday, as they dealt with limited resources while running a primary to select pro-democracy candidates for the coming Hong Kong legislative by-elections.

Political scientist Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, co-founder of the activist group Power of Democracy, which organised the poll, said he was pleased to see a participation level far exceeding initial projections of 8,000 voters.

He conceded, however, that there were far too few polling stations and that the group had not done enough to promote the exercise.

“We just didn’t have the money. Candidates had very limited budgets and could not afford to spend a lot of money on a primary,” Cheng said. Even Power of Democracy had a budget in the low five figures, he added.

“There wasn’t a lot of promotion of the primary in the mainstream media, and the main source of promotion came from the online media outlets.”

The results are expected to be announced by the group at a 3.30pm press conference on Monday. The official nomination period begins the following day, and the by-election will take place on March 11.

The primary will help to decide who in the pro-democracy camp will contest the Legislative Council seats representing the constituencies of Kowloon West and New Territories East. The two seats were left vacant last year along with four others after six pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified for improper oaths of office.

Vying for a spot in the Kowloon West race is disqualified academic Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who formerly held a seat for the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, ex-lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee and Democratic Party district councillor Ramon Yuen Hoi-man.

For New Territories East, ex-lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai, Labour Party underdog Steven Kwok Wing-kin and former student activist Tommy Cheung Sau-yin are the hopefuls.

On Sunday, long queues snaked around the streets at the Shek Kip Mei polling station, and some voters complained of having to wait for hours to cast their ballot.

Three stations were set up in Kowloon West and five in New Territories East.

Responding to complaints that there were too few stations for such large constituencies, Cheng said it was a problem of limited resources as each polling station would cost more than HK$100,000 to run.

Organisers also had to take into account the number of volunteers they could hire to man the stations, the candidates’ budgets and the technical requirements of the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme, he said.

Cheng noted that there were concerns over candidates hiring buses to ferry voters to voting stations but said inspections carried out by the organisers’ staff showed that they were ferrying all voters, not just their own supporters.

He played down the rivalry and bickering between candidates and said he hoped the aspirants would maintain a unified front and support the winning candidate.

Cheng admitted the turnout was smaller compared to that for opposition camp supporters in the 2016 Legislative Elections, but stressed that this was normal for primaries all around the world.

“The truth is we really didn’t know [how many people would participate]. We’re talking about getting normal residents to bring all their documents [identity cards and proof of address] out to take part in a civic primary election,” Cheng said. “We’ll take it.”

Sunday’s ballot accounted for 45 per cent of the final result, with telephone polling forming another 45 per cent. Votes from members of political parties and civic groups formed the remaining 10 per cent.