Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog has received six complaints so far in connection with next month’s rural representative elections.
Monica Yu Wai-fan, programme coordinator of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), told RTHK on Monday that the complaints ranged from “bribing voters, offering them food and entertainment, and even bribing candidates or potential candidates.”
Yu warned that candidates or their supporters might violate anti-corruption laws if they provide voters with transportation to polling stations and ask them to vote for the candidates. Under the law, free transportation can constitute a form of bribe, she said.
But it is not illegal to offer free transport on the polling day if the provider is not a supporter of any candidate and does not tell people who to vote for, Yu added.
It is common for local groups and elderly homes to arrange free transport to polling stations in elections, but the practice is controversial. Local media have repeatedly reported that many elderly voters appeared to have been instructed to vote for a specific candidate – typically belonging to the pro-Beijing camp – by having the candidate number written on their palms.
Meanwhile, as the elections take place just a month before the Lunar New Year, many village committees will organise feasts and social events for villagers. Yu said candidates might violate anti-corruption laws if they use the occasions to canvass support.
If anyone campaigns for a candidate during a social event – even if not authorised by the candidate – the event might amount to an electoral campaign event and the expenses should be counted towards the candidate’s campaign expenses, Yu said.
Under such a scenario, she added, “if the event organiser does not have the candidate’s permission to canvass support for them and fails to immediately intervene or make clarifications, the organiser might risk violating Section 23 of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.” The provision stipulates that it is illegal for anyone who is not a candidate’s agent to incur election expenses for them.
The ICAC received a total of 204 complaints in the previous rural representative elections in 2015, many of which involved allegedly corrupt conduct to influence voters such as by bribing them and using threats of violence against them.
The upcoming rural representative elections attracted controversy earlier this month after the government barred lawmaker Eddie Chu from running in a village election on the basis that he advocates self-determination and “implicitly” supports the right of others to advocate Hong Kong independence.
The elections take place on January 6, 13 and 20 next year.