LCQ16: Complaints about being pressurized to vote in election
Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 16):
Recently, some members of the public called up radio phone-in programmes and Members' offices, claiming that some local people and Mainland officials or influential people had pressurised them or promised to offer them pecuniary benefits in an attempt to coerce or induce them into voting for candidates belonging to a particular political party in the Legislative Council elections
to be held in September. Some members of the public even claimed that they had been asked to take photos of their ballot papers while voting to prove their voting decisions. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:
(a) whether they have received such complaints; if so, of the details;
(b) whether they have assessed if electors will be perplexed by such incidents and even lose confidence in the integrity of the elections; if the assessment results are in the affirmative, of the measures in place to restore the confidence of electors and the details of such measures; if the assessment results are in the negative, of the justifications for that; and
(c) of the relevant Mainland offices with which they have made enquiries on the above allegations which involved Mainland officials or people, and the specific responses received?
Taking the question raised by the Honourable Emily Lau as a whole, our reply is as follows:
The Government is committed to ensuring that all public elections in Hong Kong are conducted openly, honestly and fairly. To this end, a comprehensive set of electoral legislation is in place to regulate the conduct of elections. Under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance ("ECICO"), a person who offers, solicits or accepts an advantage as an inducement for another
person to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate, or uses force or duress against another person to induce the other person to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate, commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a maximum penalty of a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for 7 years.
As at June 15, the ICAC has received five reports of different types relating to the 2004 Legislative Council elections. The ICAC is handling the cases in question in accordance with the law, and will contact persons concerned as necessary. Since investigations are still continuing, we are not in a position to disclose details of the cases.
We note that recently there have been media reports on the alleged use of duress against electors with a view to influencing their voting behaviour. As always, the Electoral Affairs Commission ("EAC")*)will work closely with the ICAC to ensure that the Legislative Council election to be held in September is honest and clean, and will not be affected by any corrupt or illegal
practices. Recently, at the meetings of the Subcommittee which was set up to scrutinize the subsidiary legislation relating to the Legislative Council election, Members have suggested to the EAC further measures for protecting the secrecy of votes. After consideration, the EAC has put forth preliminary proposals to adopt the following measures for the coming Legislative Council
(1) a general direction will be given to all electors requiring them to switch off their mobile telephones when they are inside a polling station, regardless of whether their telephones are camera-equipped;
(2) the curtains in front of the voting compartments will be removed so that polling staff, candidates and their polling agents can observe generally the conduct of electors inside the voting compartments. A yellow line will be marked on the floor which will be at an appropriate distance from the voting booth, depending on the configuration of individual polling stations. No other
electors will be allowed to enter or stay in the area beyond the yellow line when an elector is marking the ballot paper inside the voting compartments, so that the choice of the electors will not be observed by others;
(3) when issuing the ballot papers to electors, polling staff will remind electors not to use mobile telephones/cameras or to take photographs inside the polling station; and
(4) more prominent signs will be posted at the polling stations to remind electors not to use mobile telephones/cameras or to take photographs inside polling stations.
The Government will continue to discuss with the Subcommittee the arrangements for implementing the above measures.
In addition, the EAC proposes that for small polling stations with less than 200 electors, the ballot papers should be delivered to a main counting station after the close of poll, to be mixed with those cast at the main counting station before the votes are counted. The EAC is now considering a proposal, put forward by Members, to raise the "200 electors"* threshold for the
purpose of defining small polling stations. The EAC will also consider a proposal to increase the penalty for using mobile telephones/cameras or taking photographs inside a polling station. We shall continue to follow up the proposals with the Subcommittee.
The Government will also put in place publicity measures to promote public awareness of various arrangements and legislative provisions which protect the secrecy of votes, and to enhance public understanding of measures against corrupt and illegal conduct in elections, including relevant provisions in the ECICO.
Ends/Wednesday, June 16, 2004