Following is a question by the Hon Cyd Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):
According to the Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the 2012 Legislative Council (LegCo) Election issued by the Electoral Affairs Commission, organisations approved to conduct exit polls by the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) "should not announce the results of exit polls or make specific remarks or predictions on the performance of individual candidate/list of candidates before the close of poll", lest the election results might be affected. The various organisations which conducted exit polls for that LegCo Election had signed an undertaking, promising not to release, directly or indirectly, the results of the exit polls to candidates or organisations to which candidates belong, etc. before the close of poll. The information on REO's website shows that the organisations approved to conduct exit polls on the polling day (i.e. September 9, 2012) of that LegCo Election did not include the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). However, it has been reported that a Member of this Council who belongs to DAB disclosed on a live radio programme on the 3rd of this month that DAB had conducted exit polls on the polling day of that LegCo Election and, in the evening of that day, DAB learnt from the exit polls that some of its candidates had already garnered sufficient votes to be elected, and forthwith stopped canvassing for these candidates and switched to focus its efforts on canvassing for other candidates. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as some members of the public have pointed out that the use of exit poll results by political parties to canvass or allocate votes for candidates will seriously prejudice the fairness of elections and would do injustice to other law-abiding candidates, whether the authorities will investigate the aforesaid incident; if they will, how they will carry out such investigation; if not, the reasons for that; and
(2) given that the 2016 LegCo Election will be held on September 4 this year, whether the authorities will step up the monitoring of organisations conducting exit polls, in order to curb the use of exit poll results to allocate or canvass votes during the polling; if they will, of the monitoring measures being contemplated; if not, the reasons for that, and how they will handle non-compliant situations?
The ballot is secret. It is an elector's right to keep his / her vote secret. In accordance with section 60 of the Legislative Council Ordinance (Cap. 542), an elector does not have to disclose his / her choice of candidate / list of candidates if he / she does not want to.
Under the existing arrangement, any person or organisation may apply to the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) to conduct exit poll. The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) has promulgated guidelines in relation to the exit poll conducted within the No Canvassing Zone with details set out in Chapter 15 of the "Guidelines on Election-related Activities in respect of the Legislative Council Election" (the Guidelines). That chapter sets out the guidelines for the conduct, publication and broadcast of exit polls to avoid unfair interference with the election process by unduly influencing electors. The aim is to ensure that elections are conducted honestly and fairly and, at the same time, to strike a good balance between the need to maintain order outside polling stations and upholding the freedom of expression, freedom of the press and academic freedom.
Since the 2015 District Council election, the EAC has required the applicant or the applicant organisation to make a statutory declaration undertaking to abide by the terms on conduct of exit poll and the Guidelines. This requirement will also be applicable to the Legislative Council (LegCo) election to be held in September this year and the terms include:
(1) the applicant organisation has no member contesting in any geographical constituencies (GCs) / functional constituencies (FCs), of which any polling stations are covered by the exit poll;
(2) the applicant or applicant organisation has not publicly expressed support for any candidate / list of candidates contesting in any GCs / FCs, of which any polling stations are covered by the exit poll;
(3) the applicant or applicant organisation should not assign member(s) of any organisation which has member(s) contesting in any GCs / FCs or has publicly expressed support for any candidate / list of candidates contesting in any GCs / FCs, of which any polling stations are covered by the exit poll, as the person(s) responsible for or conducting the exit poll on the polling day;
(4) the applicant or applicant organisation should not announce or disclose the results of the exit poll or make specific remarks or predictions in relation to the performance of any candidate / list of candidates before the close of poll;
(5) the applicant or applicant organisation should not release, directly or indirectly, the results of the exit poll or make specific remarks or predictions on the performance in relation to any candidate / list of candidates to any candidate / list of candidates contesting in the GCs / FCs covered by the exit poll, any person who or organisation which has publicly expressed support for any candidate / list of candidates contesting in the GCs / FCs covered by the exit poll, or any organisation with member(s) contesting in the GCs / FCs covered by the exit poll, before the close of poll; and
(6) approved exit poll interviewers should not speak to or communicate with candidates / lists of candidates or their agents when conducting the poll.
Moreover, the EAC also requires all approved exit poll interviewers to display prominently an identification device when conducting the exit poll, and use the standard script provided by the REO to inform the electors being interviewed that the exit poll is not commissioned by the Government and their participation in the exit poll is entirely voluntary.
The REO will release the information of the persons or organisations allowed to conduct exit poll onto the election website before the polling day, and will display the information in a notice at a prominent location of the polling station(s) on the polling day for public inspection. The REO will also remind the Presiding Officers of polling stations to enhance patrolling to ensure that the approved exit poll interviewers comply with the statutory declaration and the Guidelines when conducting exit polls.
If applicants or applicant organisations fail to comply with the terms of the statutory declaration or requirements of the Guidelines, the EAC can revoke the approval for conduct of exit poll. The EAC may also make a censure or even reprimand in a public statement which will include the name of the person or the organisation concerned. If applicants or applicant organisations knowingly make a statement false in a material particular in the statutory declaration, they may be subject to criminal liability.
According to the REO, no political organisation or its member applied to conduct exit polls on the polling day of the 2012 LegCo election. The REO is now following up on the case mentioned by the Hon Ho. If there is evidence indicating that any approved applicant or applicant organisation failed to comply with requirements of the Guidelines, the EAC will take action according to the established mechanism.
Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:38