Hong Kong lawmakers have urged the government to work out a plan so that Hongkongers living in mainland China can cast their ballots in the upcoming legislative election amid Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang told a legislative panel on Monday that his bureau has been “actively exploring” the idea of establishing polling stations at border control points for the newly-restricted Legislative Council (LegCo) election on December 19.
This would allow registered electors in the mainland to “exercise their right to vote” and “perform their civic duty,” the government said in a document submitted to LegCo. The minister told legislators that his bureau must consider the location of the polling facilities, and whether they would impede people trying to cross the border.
They also had to work out how the candidates, election agents and polling agents could monitor voting in the regulated border zone.
“We will pay close attention to the latest pandemic situation and the relevant quarantine arrangement to determine whether we should set up polling facilities at suitable control points and how to do so,” the minister said, adding the government would discuss the proposal with mainland authorities.
There is no absentee voting in Hong Kong at present, and previous government suggestions that Hongkongers living on the mainland should be allowed to vote there have proved controversial.
Some lawmakers raised concerns over the limited time to implement such an arrangement. Commercial sector representative Martin Liao said that whether or not the government could execute the plan, voters deserve a “clear reply” as soon as possible.
“To implement this new arrangement… the level of difficulty is not low,” he said.
Another legislator, Luk Chung-hung, urged Tsang to overcome obstacles to execute the plan. The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions politician said Hong Kong voters living in the mainland have been looking forward to voting in the city’s elections, especially after the electoral system was revamped in May to ensure only “patriots” hold power. But some were reluctant to return to Hong Kong to vote due to the compulsory quarantine, he said.
“The government should spare no effort and implement this,” he said.
The mainland affairs minister has yet to reveal details of the potential border polling booths. He told the legislature last month the plan would not go ahead until the government resolved technical issues, while the authorities were also considering setting up polling stations at the city’s quarantine centres to allow registered electors under quarantine to vote.
The proposal to let Hongkongers in the mainland vote in local elections has been controversial. Chief Executive Carrie Lam claimed broad public support for the policy, but an opinion poll conducted for HKFP in October last year showed that only 17 per cent of Hongkongers approve of the proposal.
In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.
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