Several obscure groups will help choose members of a revamped Election Committee that will decide Hong Kong’s next leader, a Post investigation has found.
The organisations successfully registered with the committee’s new grass-roots wing, a subsector created earlier this year to give the working class a wider say in government. A number of them, however, counted fewer than 200 followers on Facebook and shared an identical address.
Critics argued the inclusion of the little-known groups, with names such as “Enjoy Family Together”, “Happy People” and “Modern Mammy Group”, showed authorities were determined to find as many outfits as they needed to make the overhauled electoral system work.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
But figures in the pro-establishment camp defended the groups’ contributions to the community, arguing they were performing valuable services but in a low-key way.
The committee chooses the chief executive and following Beijing’s changes will also nominate all candidates for the legislature and field candidates for nearly half its 90 seats.
Polls for the 1,500 positions on the committee will be held on September 19. Voting registration in the grass-roots subsector, which has 60 seats, is open to any organisation that has been in operation for three years and is affiliated with one of the city’s three pro-establishment umbrella groups – the Hong Kong Island Federation, Kowloon Federation of Associations and New Territories Association of Societies.
The government allowed the media to inspect the provisional electoral roll, including the 404 associations now in the grass-roots subsector, between this Sunday and Thursday, but banned note-taking and limited each session to 45 minutes.
Among them were pro-establishment residents’ groups with very little public exposure. Most of them could not be reached by the Post for inquiries on Monday.
One group, “The Family”, had an address located in an industrial building in San Po Kong and just 57 Facebook followers. One post expressed support for police but its page has not been active since September 2019.
The Facebook page of “Modern Mammy Group”, with nearly 190 followers, recently posted photos of a dance show it co-organised with the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party.
“Happy People” shared an address with an office of the New Territories Association of Societies, while the registration of “Enjoy Family Together” listed a public housing flat at Lei Cheng Uk Estate in Cheung Sha Wan. No information about the two groups was available in the public domain.
While officials had earlier said the new subsector was intended to give a wider say to the city’s working class, the Post found that the newly registered voters included the Hon Wah College Alumni Association, the Hong Kong Executive, Administrative and Clerical Staff Association and the Hong Kong Putonghua Professional Association. A diamond jubilee of the alumni group was attended by a deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army, a Weibo post showed.
The Election Committee also contains a 30-seat “sports, performing arts, culture and publication” subsector, but at least 31 sports and arts groups were found in the one representing the grass roots.
Several voters had signed petitions in 2013 to oppose the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement that unfolded the following year, including Seabear Swimming Club, Seabear Squash Club and the lion dance group “Sai Kung Kin Man Association”,
Lam Kai-fai, chairman of the Chinese Arts Papercutting Association, said his group – which was a member of the Hong Kong Island Federation – decided to sign up following the electoral overhaul.
“It is only normal for any federation to encourage its members to sign up as voters,” he said.
Lam refrained from commenting on the representation of other new voters, but said his association – which had “several members” – “had served the community by promoting paper-cutting arts”.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Leung Che-cheung, president of the New Territories Association of Societies, said his group had urged its 174 affiliated members to register as voters in the grass-roots sector.
When asked whether the barely known organisations would undermine the representation of the committee, he defended them as “active community groups” despite their small size.
“It’s expected that members of the public have not heard of them, as many are dedicated to serving the community in a low-profile manner,” he said. “Don’t undermine them because of their ‘unconventional names’.”
Leung said a management committee of his group would enhance public awareness of the associations and help them coordinate in the coming elections.
There is also a need for the authorities to secure groups which they can trust
Ivan Choy, Chinese University political scientist
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said authorities had specific priorities in mind with the revamped committee.
“The biggest consideration for the authorities was to find sufficient groups to fill the new subsector created,” he said. “There is also a need for the authorities to secure groups which they can trust, and hence all these peculiar groups.”
The number of voters for the committee membership has plunged 97 per cent, from 246,000 in the last race in 2016 to 7,891, after Beijing reduced the number of individuals in favour of corporations and associations in a shift widely seen as favouring the pro-establishment camp.
Choy argued that the degree of representation offered in polls had been heavily curtailed by the reduction in individual voters.
A year under the national security law: mass arrests, sanctions, a swifter Legco and a defunct newspaper
A spokeswoman for the Registration and Electoral Office said it approved the groups’ qualifications as voters by verifying their constitutions and membership lists.
“These organisations are diverse in nature, including professional organisations, business associations and societies,” she said. “By granting voting rights to these groups, we can ensure that the relevant sectors truly represent the interests and voices of their industries.”
The committee will pick the city’s next leader in March, while the elections for the Legislative Council are scheduled for December.
More from South China Morning Post: