Following is a question by Dr Hon Philip Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 11):
With the business relationship between Hong Kong and the Mainland growing increasingly closer, many members of the public may often have to work outside Hong Kong for a short period of time. On the other hand, in the service-based economy of Hong Kong, quite a number of people have to work on Sundays. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it will introduce new measures (such as advance polling arrangement) in the 2008 Legislative Council Election, to facilitate electors who are not in Hong Kong or cannot find time to cast their votes on the election day in exercising their voting right; if it will, of the relevant details; if not, the reasons for that?
In the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 1999, the Administration proposed to introduce a pilot scheme of advance polling arrangements for the 2000 Legislative Council (LegCo) Election. Under the proposed arrangements, an advance polling day would be specified before the general polling day. Electors who could not vote on the general polling day could cast their votes on the advance polling day at a specified polling station. However, some LegCo Members pointed out that if the results of exit polls conducted on the advance polling day were released by polling agencies or the media before the general polling day, such results might affect electors' voting behaviour on the general polling day, and might hamper the fairness of the election.
All along, through its guidelines on election-related activities, the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) has been appealing to the media and relevant organisations not to release exit poll results before the close of poll on the general polling day. In case the media or relevant organisations do not comply with these guidelines, the EAC may make a reprimand or censure in a public statement. There were views that if advance polling arrangements were to be introduced, given the relatively long period between the advance polling day and the general polling day, the current practice of appealing through the guidelines might not be adequate to ensure that exit poll results would not be released by the relevant organisations before the close of poll on the general polling day. In order to ensure fairness in the election, there were suggestions that legislation should be introduced to prohibit the release of exit poll results before the close of poll on the general polling day. However, there were opinions that such a legislative proposal might violate the principle of freedom of expression. After considering the views of Members, we agreed that as such an important issue could not be resolved, advance polling arrangements should not be introduced in the 2000 LegCo Election.
As to whether the introduction of advance polling arrangements could be considered for the 2008 LegCo Election, the question of how to prevent the release of exit poll results before the close of poll on the general polling day remains unresolved. Since our primary concern is to ensure that the election is conducted in a fair and just manner, we do not consider it appropriate to introduce advance polling arrangements in the 2008 LegCo Election before this critical problem is resolved satisfactorily.
At present, the polling date of the LegCo election is normally announced about half a year before the polling day in order to help electors plan their time to cast their votes. Polling is also conducted on a Sunday, on which more electors do not have to work. In addition, polling is conducted from 7.30am to 10.30pm. These arrangements would help electors make their arrangements to participate in voting on the polling day.
Within our objective to ensure that elections would be conducted in a fair, open and just manner, we will continue to improve the electoral arrangements, in order to help electors exercise their right to vote and fulfill their civic obligations.
Ends/Wednesday, July 11, 2007