The pro-Beijing camp has accused law professor Benny Tai of attempting to manipulate the upcoming Chief Executive election after he proposed that those with a vote could pledge support for candidates who promise to withdraw the government’s lawsuits against four pro-democracy lawmakers.

Tai was one of 325 pro-democracy figures elected to the 1,200-member Chief Executive Election Committee earlier this month. He suggested this week that the camp could influence the stance of candidates with their votes. To win in the election, a candidate must secure more than 600 votes.

Benny Tai. File Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

‘Electoral fraud’

On Wednesday, a group of pro-Beijing lawyers condemned Tai for inciting Election Committee members to engage in an “unethical political deal” by “trading their votes,” thereby damaging the fairness of election.

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who teaches law at the City University, said that Tai’s proposal was the equivalent of a transfer of advantages and amounted to electoral fraud.

“A future promise is still a promise. Tai will still have contravened the law,” she said. “We demand the Secretary for Justice investigate Tai because he does not think he is wrong – indicating a high likelihood that he has already done what he has said, or is planning on doing it.”

Leung said Tai has committed a number of crimes – including perverting the course of justice and contempt of court. “Several governmental departments will probably accept our complaints,” she said, adding that Tai should not be inciting others to break the law.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun. File photo: Stand News.

Leung’s party colleague and lawyer Junius Ho Kwan-yiu said Tai’s idea went beyond the limits of academic freedom. He questioned whether it was appropriate for Tai to make the statement as a professor of the University of Hong Kong, and recommended filing complaints to the school.

‘Lack common sense’

Tai responded on social media, saying that he found it strange that some lawmakers made uneducated accusations.

“It is common sense for voters to publicly make political demands towards candidates and pledge support for those who promise to meet their requests. It is not problematic to call this a ‘political deal,’ as elections are in themselves ‘political games,’” he said.

“What is strange is that some people thought they had discovered something unusual and made a fuss out of it. It is even stranger that some of these people who lack common sense are lawmakers.”

Junius Ho. File photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

The focus should be whether the demand is reasonable, Tai added on an RTHK programme on Wednesday.

Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party said that Tai’s move was neither illegal nor unethical: “I don’t see how it is unethical. As a voter, he has a demand, which is shared by many Hong Kong residents.”

Tai has been a frequent target of the pro-Beijing camp since co-founding the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign in 2013 to pressure the government to implement open elections. Tai’s campaign eventually led to the 79-day Occupy protests, dubbed the “Umbrella Movement,” in 2014.

Last year, the professor was accused of accepting anonymous donations for his campaign. HKU later substantiated the complaints and banned Tai from receiving donations, assuming managerial roles and supervising researchers.

The pro-Beijing camp again accused him of manipulating the Legislative Council election in September through his strategic voting plan ThunderGo. In response, the government recently asked lawmakers to discuss regulating election surveys on, or before, polling days in order to rein in the use of vote coordination.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.