Following is a question by Hon Albert Ho Chun-yan and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (Oct 17):
The election for the new term of District Councils (DC) and the Legislative Council (LC) by-election for the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency will be held on November 18 and December 2 this year respectively, with an interval of only two weeks between them. The Government has said that not scheduling the above two elections on the same day is to avoid confusion among voters. However, the LC geographical constituency elections and functional constituency elections have all along been held on the same day. On the other hand, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs said on August 8 this year that "the Registration and Electoral Office will need about four months to arrange for the by-election." In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) given that on March 5, 1995, the elections of the two former Municipal Councils and by-elections for two DC constituencies were held on the same day, whether the Electoral Affairs Commission pointed out in the reports on the relevant elections that such arrangements had caused confusion among voters; if so, of the details; if not, why the Government is now of the view that holding the above two elections on the same day will cause confusion;
(b) of the respective estimated expenditures and manpower for the above two elections, and whether it has assessed the savings in expenditures and manpower to be achieved by holding the two elections on the same day; if so, of the respective savings in expenditures and manpower to be achieved; and
(c) given that in 2000, the Government took only two months to complete the work for the LC by-election for the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency, why it needs almost four months to arrange the LC by-election this time?
(a) On March 5, 1995, the ordinary elections of the two Municipal Councils (MC), as well as the by-elections of two District Board (DB) constituencies, namely the Yau Ma Tei and Lower Ngau Tau Kok constituencies, were held. The polling arrangements for the two different elections were combined deliberately for the purpose of assessing how well they would operate. This served as a trial run in preparation for the Legislative Council (LegCo) election to be held in September 1995. This was to help assess whether the planned combined polling for LegCo geographical constituency (GC) and functional constituency (FC) elections could be conducted smoothly. Nothing untoward arose during the combined polling of the 1995 MC election and the DB by-elections.
The combined polling arrangements for the GC and FC (See Note 1) elections were first introduced at the LegCo election held in September 1995. For this purpose, the Administration had undertaken planning over a long period of time. The then Boundary and Election Commission had also amended the Guidelines on Election-related Activities and launched a 30-day public consultation on the Guidelines on April 1, 1995. With such planning and large-scale publicity, the combined polling arrangements were introduced smoothly at the 1995 LegCo election and were adopted at subsequent LegCo elections.
Though nothing untoward arose as regards the combined polling arrangements at the 1995 MC election and DB by-elections as well as LegCo elections, the situation in 1995 and that pertaining to the current election in 2007 have a fundamental difference and cannot be equated simplistically; the main differences are as follows:
(i) The combined polling of the MC ordinary election and the by-elections of two constituencies on March 5, 1995 involved only three out of the 440 polling stations and 15,000 voters. It was much smaller in scale than the impending LegCo by-election which will involve almost 100 polling stations and 620,000 voters. The two occasions are not directly comparable.
(ii) The LegCo GC and FC elections are elections for the same Council, both returning LegCo Members with similar roles and functions. On the other hand, the District Council (DC) election and the LegCo GC by-election concern Councils of different levels. Members returned by these elections carry out distinct functions in the DCs and LegCo respectively. The elections of representatives with different functions on the same day may confuse voters.
(iii) The impending LegCo by-election has to be organised within a tight timeframe. If combined polling is to be pursued, there will not be sufficient time to publicise fully to a sizeable electorate the arrangement for polling for two different elections on the same day. It will be difficult to ensure that all voters can clearly distinguish the two elections.
(iv) LegCo FC candidates normally focus on their respective sectors in their election campaign. However, both candidates for DC elections and LegCo GC by-elections conduct large-scale intensive publicity in the community. If the polling of the two elections was scheduled on the same day, candidates for both elections would conduct large-scale publicity campaigns on Hong Kong Island during the canvassing period and the polling day. This will make it difficult for voters to distinguish between the publicity messages of each election.
Taking the above considerations into account, we consider that scheduling the two elections on two separate days can avoid confusion to voters arising from the combined polling arrangements. This will help ensure that both elections can be conducted more smoothly.
(b) The estimated expenditure for the third term DC election is $150 million. The manpower requirement includes about 350 short-term staff posts (during the peak period), as well as around 14,000 electoral staff.
The estimated expenditure for the coming LegCo Hong Kong Island GC by-election is $26.6 million. The manpower required includes 2,600 electoral staff.
If the two elections were scheduled for the same day, on the assumption that the counting for both elections would be conducted at the polling stations, the savings on hire of venue and transportation would be around $2 million. Regarding manpower, while the 14,000 electoral staff engaged for the DC election should be able to handle the polling duties of the two elections, we would have to engage extra manpower for the counting duties. It is estimated that overall there would be a saving of 1,600 electoral staff, resulting in a saving of around $5 million on honorarium. As such, the total savings of scheduling the two elections on the same day would be around $7 million.
(c) The preparatory period for the coming LegCo by-election overlaps with that of the 2007 DC election. The 2007 DC election will involve an electorate of almost 3.3 million and over 500 polling stations. The resource and manpower of the Registration and Electoral Office has already been heavily engaged for this election. On the other hand, the 2000 LegCo Hong Kong Island GC by-election was the only election held during that period, and thus resources and manpower could be dedicated to its preparation at that time. As such, the two cases are not directly comparable.
Note 1: The combined polling arrangements did not apply to three FCs, namely the Urban Council, Regional Council and Rural FCs in view of the small number of voters in these FCs. The Urban Council FC and the Rural FC were uncontested. For the Rural FC, a designated polling station was set up for all the electors to cast their votes.
Ends/Wednesday, October 17, 2007