EAC Chairman's "Letter to Hong Kong" (English only)
Following is the "Letter to Hong Kong" by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) Chairman, Mr Justice Barnabas Fung Wah, broadcast on Radio Television Hong Kong this morning (July 17):
Dear Hong Kong voters,
The General Election for the Legislative Council will be held on September 4 and the nomination period has begun yesterday. Electoral affairs are attracting more and more attention these days, and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts as Chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission.
Surfing the internet has become part of our daily lives. Many candidates would no doubt be promoting their election platforms and canvassing for support through the internet. The Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance provides that an election advertisement means any form of publication published for the purpose of promoting or prejudicing the election of any candidate. The law covers electioneering activities through traditional media as well as the internet, and the candidates must declare the expenses incurred, so the public may monitor that the maximum limit on election expenses have not been exceeded.
During several public consultations on the election guidelines, views have been expressed that the legal definition of election advertisement is too wide and may impose restrictions on the freedom of speech. There are worries that commenting on the candidates, or putting images of candidates, or suggesting voting for certain candidates on the Facebook may be regarded as publishing an election advertisement. The EAC well appreciates the concerns. Hence, we have updated the electoral guidelines to remind members of the public of the existing law so that they will not fall foul of the law inadvertently. If one merely shares or forwards the candidates’ election platforms on the internet for expression of opinions with no intention to promote or prejudice the election of any candidate, such sharing will not normally be regarded as publishing an election advertisement. I am sure people will appreciate the difference between expression of opinions and outright canvassing for votes.
Some say the current legislation is too strict or outdated. They advocate that the regulation on publication of election messages on the internet be relaxed. The EAC is open-minded on this but it is not up to the EAC to change the law. Society should engage in thorough discussions, and after some broad consensus is reached, the Government may consider how to take it forward. As a matter of fact, the Government has indicated that it will be looking into the topic. However, before any amendment to the legislation is made, it is the duty of the EAC to supervise the elections according to the existing law, and to remind the public of the legal provisions and the consequences of any breach.
Another issue of public concern is exit polls conducted on the polling day. At present, there is no legislation governing exit polls or other election-related opinion polls, except the regulation of exit polls conducted inside No Canvassing Zones. Apart from ensuring good order outside the polling stations, in view of public concerns on the matter, the Registration and Electoral Office will stringently vet the applications for exit polls. Strict guidelines are laid down to prohibit the announcement or disclosure of the poll results before the end of polling, as well as the use of poll results for canvassing or matching of votes. Starting from last year, pollsters are also required to make a statutory declaration that they will abide by the rules and guidelines on the conduct of exit polls, with possible criminal liability for any breach.
I understand that some views also suggest the regulation of other opinion polls conducted outside No Canvassing Zones or before the polling day. However, they need to be dealt with on policy and legislative levels. In any case, if a candidate uses the results of other opinion polls for soliciting or matching of votes, the expenses incurred are regarded as election expenses and must be declared in the election return. Further, it is illegal for anyone to incur any election expenses without the authorisation of a candidate. This is necessary to uphold the maximum election expenses limit. If there is evidence of any breach, the EAC will refer the cases to the law enforcement agency.
Candidates are in the limelight in elections, but it is the registered voters who wield the real power to decide the result of the election. The final register of electors for 2016 published yesterday sees 3.78 million registered voters. The design of the present voter registration system aims at encouraging and facilitating more people register as voters. After repeated explanations, the public now appreciate that under our existing law, voters who have moved houses but not yet updated their new home addresses with the REO will not automatically lose their right to registration.
That said, there are queries on the registration of electors in the functional constituencies. For example, some corporate electors are said to belong to the same group of companies, or are using the same business address. Others query the current state of affairs of some corporate electors. The eligibility for registration as a corporate elector in a functional constituency is set out in the Legislative Council Ordinance, and the existing law does not impose any specific requirement on the address or the current state of affairs of the registered corporate electors.
The REO is required to process applications for voter registration strictly in accordance with the legislation. Neither the EAC nor the REO is authorised to attach any requirement outside the law. This is the design of the system. Of course, there is always room for improvement with the existing system under the law. The public is always welcome to engage in open discussions and put forward their views. The EAC will certainly pass on any views received to the Government for consideration.
Under the current regime, the role of the EAC is to arrange and supervise elections according to the existing law. If there are issues in the design of the system and the legislation, they have to be dealt with by the relevant quarters on policy and legislative levels. Meanwhile, the EAC will continue to explain to the public the features of the present system.
During the nomination period, the Returning Officers will, as in the past, exercise their statutory powers to deal with the nominations according to the law. I am sure that the election will be held in an open, fair and honest manner.
17 July 2016
Ends/Sunday, July 17, 2016
Issued at HKT 9:00
Issued at HKT 9:00