Motion on “Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021” (2021.05.27)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Chairman, I support the various amendments proposed by the Government. One of the key points of the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021 (“the Bill”) is the proposal to establish the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee (“CERC”) which is responsible for assessing and validating the eligibility of candidates in the Election Committee (“EC”), Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections.

The members of CERC are to be appointed by the Chief Executive. It was originally proposed that CERC should consist of the chairperson and two to four members who are principal officials. The specific duty of CERC is that, in the event of an issue regarding the eligibility of a candidate, the case will be referred to the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of HKSAR (“CSNS”) for review, based on which CERC will make an official decision.

Upon the passage of the Bill, CERC will act as the law-based gatekeeper to ensure that all candidates bear allegiance to the SAR Government and uphold the Basic Law, avoid the interference of external forces in the affairs of Hong Kong and truly implement “patriots administering Hong Kong”. Hence, CERC is crucial. The Government must handle it properly. The Bills Committee and members of the public have put forward many opinions which I am glad the Government has listened to them with an open mind.

In fact, the current practice that Returning Officers are solely responsible for the eligibility review has been severely criticized. Some people opined that Returning Officers are susceptible to challenges as their ranking is too low. Others reckoned that, as civil servants, Returning Officers are subject to criticisms anyhow when handling sensitive political issues. There have been incidents of Returning Officers being doxxed and threatened in the past. Hence, it is sensible, reasonable and legal to have the more authoritative CERC assume the responsibility for the review.

The amendments under discussion proposed to increase the upper limit of members in CERC from five to eight by adding one to three non-official members who must be patriotic, independent and apolitical individuals, with a view to further enhancing the credibility of CERC. The amendments also stipulate that no legal proceedings may be instituted in respect of certain review decisions made involving CSNS. Moreover, Hong Kong should report the composition of CERC to the Central People’s Government for the record.

I agree with the Government’s amendment that the decisions of CERC should not be made public, nor may legal proceedings be brought against them because information on national security is involved. However, members of the public may not understand this. For this reason, the Government should appoint renowned and highly respected figures in the society as members with a view to boosting public confidence. Moreover, the amendment provides for the appointment of one to three non-official members, which means appointing only one member is also fine. However, since it serves to enhance the credibility, it is more preferable to appoint three members so as to increase public confidence. Certainly, it will not be easy to find highly respected figures to join CERC as it will work under considerable pressure. Former judges, former principal officials, legal professionals or academics who meet the patriotic requirement can be taken into consideration.

Another amendment concerns the termination of election proceedings. Under the original Bill, if a candidate for geographic constituency or functional constituency elections has died or is disqualified after the close of nominations, the proceedings for the election will be terminated. I understand the intent of the Government was to prevent electors from being deprived of a choice. However, this situation is extremely rare in reality. The major loophole in this proposal is that if a candidate intents to interrupt or disturb the election, he/she may stir up trouble on purpose and cause his/her own disqualification, and thus termination of the election. To ensure the smooth conduct of elections, avoid the waste of public funds and unfairness to other candidates, more than 30 Members jointly signed a petition urging the Government to abolish this arrangement. The Government eventually accepted the suggestion and dropped this proposal. Thank you, Chairman.

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