The Hong Kong government will conduct political vetting of part-time election workers in the upcoming Legislative Council polls, which will be the first LegCo vote under a new political system decreed by Beijing.

The Registration and Electoral Office plans to recruit 36,000 people to assist voters and help count votes in the polls on December 19, said Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang on Monday, adding that they must be “absolutely loyal.”

election voting voters ballot box polls election committee 2021 sept 19
File Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Tsang said he hoped members of the disciplined services would be more “actively participating” in the exercise.

“That’s why we told the heads of disciplined services that they have to nominate staff members to take part in this work,” Tsang told LegCo’s Panel on Constitutional Affairs.

His comments came after pro-Beijing lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong asked about the origins of poll workers recruited by the government and whether they would undergo political vetting.

“Well, these people have an important responsibility in the election, whether they are inside the polling stations, or in the counting stations. If [they] are not reliable politically, the fairness and openness of the election will be compromised if there are some problems,” said Wong.

Meanwhile, according to Stand News and HK01, the number of registered voters dropped by 99 per cent in the Technology and Innovation sector – previously known as the Information Technology constituency – from 13,000 people to 73 people.

Election mishap

Chief Electoral Officer Alan Yung apologised at the meeting after ballot counting in the Election Committee polls on September 19 took over 13 hours – even though there were fewer than 5,000 voters. The delay was blamed on a new electronic vote counting system.

Chairperson of the New People’s Party and pro-establishment legislator Regina Ip questioned whether Barnabas Fung, a former High Court judge, should stay on as the Electoral Affairs Commission chair.

“I don’t want to target him but in this day and age should we still recruit a judge for this sort of administrative work?” said Ip.

“We used to recruit judges because of their fair and just image, but in our society there are still a lot [of other people] who are fair and just.”

Electoral Affairs Commission barnabas fung election voting voters ballot box polls election committee 2021 sept 19 central counting station
Electoral Affairs Commission Chair Barnabas Fung. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Under government arrangements announced on Monday, votes in the district and functional constituencies for the 90-member LegCo will be counted by hand, and only the 40 seats to be filled by the Election Committee will see votes counted electronically.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said she was worried that “people in the mutual-destruction camp” would sabotage counting by crumpling ballot sheets and jamming the machines. Another legislator, Junius Ho, said the government should consider asking the Hong Kong Jockey Club for help given its expertise in handling betting slips.

In March 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move will sharply reduce democratic representation in the legislature by cutting the number of directly elected seats from half to less than 20 percent along with other changes. A pro-Beijing panel will vet candidates.

The Hong Kong government says the overhaul will ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes prompted international condemnation since they make it far more difficult for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.