The Electoral Affairs Commission has said that society needs to consider whether it is necessary to prohibit election candidates from publicly announcing “abandonment of election.”
During the Legislative Council election last year, six pro-democracy candidates suspended their campaigns in order to increase the chances of other pro-democracy candidates – Labour Party chairwoman Suzanne Wu Sui-shan was the first to do so. In the District Council (Second) Functional Constituency, three candidates halted their electioneering – the pro-democracy camp eventually won three out of the five places commonly known as “super seats.”
Ken Chow Wing-kan, a pro-Beijing Liberal Party candidate, suspended his campaign and left Hong Kong temporarily following threats. After the election, he revealed that “three people from Beijing” from a secretive department were the ones who threatened him, in an effort to make him give way to pro-Beijing rival Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.
Existing laws do not include a mechanism for candidates to withdraw from the election after their candidacies have been confirmed. The report also noted that the laws do not impose any specific restrictions on candidates changing their tactics during campaigns.
But the Commission said: “There are concerns in the community that the claims of ‘abandonment of election’ might give rise to confusing information about the election, thereby impairing the integrity of the election.”
Reflecting on the situation, the Commission added that a lot of preparation must be done weeks before the election, such as printing millions of ballot papers, to ensure a smooth election. The ballot papers would still include the names of candidates who supposedly suspended their campaigns.
“If ‘abandonment of election’ by the candidates were allowed, there would bound to be practical difficulties and confusion caused in amending the particulars on the ballot papers,” the report read.
“[I]f a candidate openly claims to ‘abandon the election’ without making public the reasons behind his/her move, it would inevitably arouse unnecessary speculations, questioning the motives behind and considering it unfair to the other candidates or the electors, and there may even be public perception that the integrity of the election is affected.”
It recommended that society needs to debate whether it is necessary to prohibit the announcement of election “abandonment” so that the authorities can look into the potential need for law amendments.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who won a super seat, said candidates should have to the freedom to give positive or negative comments about their campaigns, or choose to take a lax approach in campaigning.
“Such a proposal is strange and illogical,” he said.
Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he had criticised the democrats’ mass pull-outs as “cheating.”
Chow, also won a super seat, agreed with the Commission that the suspension of campaigning could confuse voters.