|LCQ3: Legislative Council by-elections（with Annex）
Following is a question by Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 16):
Recently, some political parties have proposed that one Member be designated from each of the five geographical constituencies of the Legislative Council (LegCo) to resign. If this proposal is implemented, the Government will have to arrange for by-elections. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) in respect of each of the LegCo by-elections held since the election of the First LegCo in 1998, of the respective amounts of public expenditure involved and the number of days between the day on which the notice of the existence of the vacancy in the membership of the Council was published in the Gazette and the polling day;
(b) whether this year's allocation which may be used for conducting LegCo by-elections is sufficient for conducting by-elections in all five geographical constituencies at the same time; if it is not sufficient, whether the Government needs to seek funding approval from LegCo, and whether it has studied how the by-elections will be conducted when the funding application has been rejected by LegCo for several times; if it has, of the outcome; and
(c) given that section 17(1) of the Legislative Council Ordinance stipulates that "a vacancy in the membership of the Legislative Council does not affect its power to transact business", whether it has studied if the effect of this provision will be affected by the duration of a vacancy; if it has, of the outcome?
(a) Since the 1998 LegCo election, three LegCo by-elections have been held, namely, the 2000 LegCo Hong Kong Island geographical constituency by-election, the 2001 LegCo Election Committee by-election and the 2007 LegCo Hong Kong Island geographical constituency by-election. The expenditure for the three by-elections amounted to about $27 million, $0.6 million and $20 million respectively. The three by-elections were held 80 days, 59 days and 115 days respectively after the notice of the existence of the vacancy in the membership of LegCo was published in the Gazette.
(b) When the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) prepares its estimates of operating expenditure for each financial year, it sets aside a provision for holding by-elections for any vacancies which may arise in the membership of LegCo and the District Councils. In general, the REO would set aside about $18 million for holding by-elections in each financial year.
We currently estimate that at least $150 million would be required if by-elections for all the five LegCo geographical constituencies in Hong Kong are to be held at the same time. The relevant estimate is higher than five times the expenditure of the 2007 LegCo Hong Kong Island geographical constituency by-election. This is because when the vacancy arose in the membership of the LegCo in 2007, the REO had started preparing for the 2007 District Councils (DC) election. The preparation for the LegCo by-election and the DC election were handled together in order to hold the LegCo by-election as soon as practicable. Accordingly, part of the expenditure on staff remuneration was saved. Besides, in order not to confuse electors, the publicity for the 2007 LegCo by-election was launched after the 2007 DC election. The duration for publicity was shorter and the expenditure was lower. The comparison of the expenditure of the two by-elections is set out in the Annex.
In fact, the scale of by-elections for all the five LegCo geographical constituencies is similar to that of a DC election. In the 2007 DC election, since 41 out of 405 constituencies were uncontested, there was no need to hold elections for the relevant constituencies. The REO, therefore, only had to set up 488 polling stations in Hong Kong. The expenditure then already exceeded 150 million. If vacancies arise in all the five LegCo geographical constituencies, we expect that more than 530 polling stations would be required, as in the 2008 LegCo election. In addition, dedicated polling stations would need to be set up for electors who are imprisoned or detained. Thirty more polling stations will have to be set up in the Correctional Services Department's penal institutions and police stations. If by-elections have to be held for all the five LegCo geographical constituencies, around 560 polling stations would be required. Hence, about 70 more polling stations than in the 2007 DC election would be required. The amount of election expenditure is directly proportional to the number of electors and the number of polling stations. Therefore, if in 2010 we have to arrange by-elections for five geographical constituencies, then the final expenditure may exceed $150 million.
As the provision of the REO for holding by-elections would not be sufficient for holding by-elections for all the five LegCo geographical constituencies, the REO would seek funding from LegCo according to the established procedures, if it is necessary to hold the by-elections.
Under the Basic Law and the relevant local legislation, the Government of the Special Administrative Region has the constitutional responsibility to hold by-elections when vacancies arise in the membership of LegCo. Section 36(1)(a) of the Legislative Council Ordinance (Cap 542) (LCO) stipulates that the Electoral Affairs Commission must, in accordance with regulations in force under the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance (Cap 541), arrange for a by-election to be held when the Clerk to LegCo makes a declaration as to the existence of a vacancy in the membership of LegCo. We believe Members would understand that the Government must act in accordance with the law and would approve the funding for arranging by-elections.
(c) Section 17(1) and (2) of the LCO stipulate that a vacancy in the membership of LegCo does not affect its power to transact business; and that neither a vacancy in the membership of LegCo nor a defect in the election of a Member, or as to the eligibility of a person to be a Member, affects the validity of its proceedings. Although there is no restriction as to the duration of the "vacancy in the membership of LegCo" under the LCO, as I mentioned earlier, the Government of the Special Administrative Region has the responsibility to hold a by-election to fill a vacancy in the membership of LegCo when it arises.
Ends/Wednesday, December 16, 2009