Op-Ed

Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok:Hong Kong protests: Electoral Affairs Commission must not yield to pressure to cancel district council elections

By October 22, 2019 November 19th, 2019 No Comments

The Election Observation Project welcomes the statement issued by the Electoral Affairs Commission on October 8, reiterating its commitment “to ensure that public elections are held in an open, fair and honest manner”.

However, we notice that the commission has not ruled out or rejected repeated calls by pro-government parties to postpone or cancel the district council elections.

It is no coincidence that the government has reportedly considered such options, with one government source quoted by the Post as saying: “It will be up to the Electoral Affairs Commission to decide whether to cancel the elections [on polling day] but the government will make a statement beforehand.”

We are seriously concerned the commission is under increasing pressure to cancel the elections, a decision that will certainly be perceived as yielding to partisan interests.

We would like to remind Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Barnabas Fung Wah that the commission has an obligation to uphold electoral integrity. We do not think the commission would like to see its credibility as “an independent, apolitical and impartial body” eroded or its mission compromised by the government and the pro-government political parties.

For example, the commission would be ill-advised to treat “Lennon Walls” across the city as election advertisements and proceed to endorse the indiscriminate removal of a wide range of opinions on display.

We consider the commission’s current practice of referring complaints “to the relevant law enforcement agencies for follow-up action” passive and inadequate. The commission should consider a strategy of proactive communication with the electorate at large.

As the nomination period closes on October 17, we urge the Electoral Affairs Commission to address the widespread concerns over the power vested in the returning officers to determine whether a prospective candidate will uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong special administrative region. The arbitrariness of the disqualification of prospective candidates by returning officers threatens to subvert open, fair and honest elections and undermines the legitimacy of the district council elections.

We urge the Electoral Affairs Commission and the officials responsible for managing the elections to engage experienced local and international observers to examine the incidents of election-related violence systematically and introduce appropriate risk management measures and steps to boost electoral security during the district council elections.

(Published in Letters, SCMP, 15 October 2019)