Hong Kong’s election authorities have increased the honorarium for civil servants who will serve as presiding officers of more than 600 polling stations across the city for the district council elections on Sunday. The authorities decided this after finding it difficult to recruit staff for the purpose in the wake of months-long anti-government protests.
In an unprecedented move to ensure the elections are held smoothly, the Registration and Electoral Office informed presiding officers last Friday that their honorarium would be increased to HK$19,280 (US$2,463) or HK$20,840, depending on the size of their polling stations.
The Post reported on Thursday the government department, which was responsible for conducting elections in the city, had informed the presiding officers of the polling stations that they could claim up to HK$800 for staying in hotels near their respective booths on Saturday night to ensure they reached their designated places of duty by 6.30 the next morning.
A source familiar with the government’s preparations for the elections told the Post it was the second time the office had raised the honorarium for the heads of the 643 polling stations, including 620 ordinary booths and 23 booths inside police stations and correctional services institutions, since it launched a recruitment drive in April.
In April this year, the honorarium for presiding officers was set at HK$9,650 or HK$11,410 (depending on the size of the polling stations). In June, it was revised to HK$14,810 or HK$16,030.
The honorarium for deputy presiding officers of polling stations was also raised from HK$7,450 in April to HK$9,690.
A spokesman for the office confirmed the pay hike on Thursday.
“We faced some difficulties in recruiting staff to work in polling stations on Sunday, partly because of the current social situation,” the spokesman said. “The increase in the honorarium is a part of our efforts to ensure that we have sufficient manpower on the polling day.”
Beijing has urged the Hong Kong government to hold the district council elections as scheduled on Sunday even if the pro-establishment camp gets a drubbing from the voters, sources have told the Post.
In a closed-door meeting in Shenzhen on Friday, Vice-Premier Han Zheng asked all relevant departments involved in handling Hong Kong affairs to do their best to ensure the district polls could be held smoothly, sources said.
Hong Kong’s festering social unrest has entered its 24th week with no end in sight and the city remains on edge following a week of violent protests that saw several campuses transforming into battlefields as protesters hurled petrol bombs and shot flaming arrows while police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Local authorities formed a crisis management committee last month to determine the fate of the polls. Headed by Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Barnabas Fung Wah, the team is likely to recommend a postponement of the polls to the chief executive only if there is a “riot, violence or any danger to public health or safety”.
Earlier, the government told lawmakers that if the elections were postponed, they would be moved to the following Sunday. Under the District Councils Ordinance, the polls can only be postponed for a maximum of 14 days.
But Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said on Wednesday the government hoped to conduct the elections smoothly on Sunday and called on protesters to respect the rights of the residents to cast their votes.