HK election: guidelines for chief executive race due out Thursday but kick-off date for nominations still ‘being decided by Beijing’, sources say

27-Jan-2022 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s election officials are still “awaiting further instructions from Beijing” on whether to announce the date of the nomination period for the chief executive election when they release on Thursday the much-anticipated guidelines for the coming race, the Post has learned.

If they do not do so, it would mark a departure from previous practice, where the date and the guidelines are made public on the same day.

“We might look odd in the eyes of the public if we have to go against previous practice and further hold off on an important date for the election,” an official said on condition of anonymity. “But the choice is not in our hands.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has remained coy on a second bid for the top job. Photo: May Tse

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has remained coy on a second bid for the top job. Photo: May Tse

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With only two months to go before the March 27 leadership race, the release of official information about the election has been unusually late compared with the previous five polls since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

In the most recent races in 2012 and 2017, the announcements of the two-week nomination period, along with the polling guidelines, were made in press conferences on December 23, more than three months ahead of the election.

Aspiring candidates had at least seven weeks to prepare their campaigns before they formally launched their bids from mid-February the following year.

On Tuesday, the government announced that a press conference would be held on Thursday to release key election information, which according to a source had earlier been set for the first week of this month.

Justice Barnabas Fung Wah, chair of the Electoral Affairs Commission, will address the public about, among other things, regulations on electioneering activities, election forums and expenses.

At a weekly press conference on Tuesday, incumbent leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor remained coy about the prospect of her seeking re-election. Asked when the nomination period would commence, she no longer mentioned the date of February 15 raised by her late last month.

“There is still room for the nomination period to be announced later. This will be in accordance with the law,” she said without giving reasons for the delay.

Under the Chief Executive Ordinance, the government is required to hold a two-week nomination period at least 21 days before the poll. The latest the start of nominations for the election therefore can be deferred to would be February 21, before ending by March 7 to allow the three-week window before the election.

So far, only Checkley Sin Kwok-lam, a 64-year-old Hong Kong film producer and kung fu master, has expressed his intention to run for the top job. Speaking to the Post, he said the delay would not have a negative impact on his chances of securing sufficient nominations to be eligible for the race.

“My campaign is in full swing now. I am working hard on it at my own pace and will submit nominations within the statutory period,” he said.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the delay might reflect that lengthy campaigns would no longer be necessary under Beijing’s overhaul to ensure “patriots rule the city”.

He said the coming race would be unlike previous ones that retained “characteristics of Western elections” that often saw fierce competition of candidates’ contrasting personalities or philosophies and campaign platforms.

“From now on, what is more important is candidates’ abilities to unite the patriotic bloc and give confidence to Beijing about Hong Kong qualities supposed to be known by the public before the nomination period commences,” he said.

With the delay in the announcement of the nomination period, speculation on who will be the city’s next leader is spilling over into whether the March 27 chief executive race will be postponed given the Omicron outbreak in the city.

Section 10 of the Chief Executive Election Ordinance states that the poll must be held about 95 days prior to the expiry of the incumbent chief executive’s term.

As Lam’s tenure is due to expire on June 30, it means the poll must be held by the end of March. The planned date of March 27 was also gazetted on October 22 last year.

A mainland source familiar with Hong Kong said a postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic was unlikely.

“Unlike the Legislative Council election where there were some 4.5 million people who are eligible to vote, there are just 1,488 members of the Election Committee who vote in the chief executive election,” the source said. “The risk is manageable.”

A veteran pro-establishment politician also saw no need for postponing the poll because of the pandemic.

“We are only talking about some 1,400 people casting ballots, the government could arrange them to vote in different periods on the polling day to minimise possible risks,” he said.



Category: Hong Kong

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