Commenting on the remarks made by Legislative Councillor Kwok Ka-ki on RTHK's Letter to Hong Kong today (November 25), a spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau gave a four point response.
Fair and Free Elections
The spokesman first emphasised that the 2007 District Council elections were conducted in a fair, open and just manner. Some 1.14 million registered voters cast their votes on November 18 to elect candidates of their choice. No person or group could sway individual voters in making their choices, and all political groups and candidates should respect the outcome of the election.
Freedom to seek donations
The spokesman then pointed out that in accordance with the fair, open and just principle, political groups or individuals could freely lobby for support from the public during or outside the election periods so long as these activities were conducted within the law. All political parties and individual candidates could seek support from organisations or members of the public for donations to support their work in the districts or their election campaigns.
As to whether the Government should subsidise political party development, the spokesman said that although this was practised in some overseas jurisdictions, the political system in Hong Kong had not reached the stage whereby political parties should be publicly funded for their development or work. The spokesman noted that the community expected political groups to lobby for the public's support, including financial support, based on their political beliefs and track record, rather than receiving public funding for their development.
Nevertheless, to encourage greater participation in elections, the Government had introduced the financial assistance scheme for election candidates, the spokesman said. Under this scheme, for each valid vote a qualified candidate can claim $10, up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the candidate's election expenses. This scheme was adopted in the 2004 Legislative Council elections, and has been extended to this year's District Council elections. Apart from encouraging more people to stand as candidates, the scheme also provided the candidates with more resources to run their campaigns, the spokesman added.
Political Appointment System
Regarding the further development of the Political Appointment System announced on October 17, the spokesman said that an important objective of creating two additional layers of political appointees under the system was to increase the channels for participation in politics.
He said, "The Government hopes that the initiative can widen and groom the pool of political talents, and broaden the avenues for those who wish to serve Hong Kong by pursuing a career in politics.
"It is also hoped that expanding the system could pave the way for implementation of universal suffrage for returning the CE, so that the candidate who wins will have sufficient room to nominate and appoint his team of Principal Officials and their deputies.
"The team of Principal Officials will then have stronger support in carrying out political work in pursuing people-based governance, and in leading an outstanding, permanent and apolitical civil service to meet the objective of effective governance," the spokesman added.
Press Freedom and Self-Censorship
On the freedom of the press, the spokesman said, "Hong Kong has consistently respected the freedom of speech and of the press. A free press flourishes in Hong Kong. There are more than 40 daily newspapers and 680 weekly periodicals published in Hong Kong. Many international news agencies, newspapers and electronic media organisations have major operations here.
"The media have always performed its role rigorously in holding the Government accountable. The media reports freely in Hong Kong, commenting extensively and liberally on local and external matters, and on Government policies, programmes and activities."
"A free press, with rights and freedoms protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, is the most effective safeguard against self-censorship," the spokesman added.
Ends/Sunday, November 25, 2007