EOP Press Conference (7 November 2019)—District Council Election Mid-Term Observation Report 
Upholding Electoral Integrity: Election Observation Project

In 2019, Hong Kong witnessed an unprecedented level of anti-government protests. In September that year, the Comparative Governance & Policy Research Centre (CGPC) at the Department of Government & International Studies (GIS) launched Hong Kong’s first Election Observation Project (EOP) in response of widespread concerns about the weaknesses of the legal and administrative guarantees for upholding electoral integrity during the District Council Election which took place in November that year. The EOP successfully brought academics from three local universities and civil society organizations such as Civil Rights Observer together to critically engage the Government and the Electoral Affairs Commission throughout the electoral process, including but not limited to formulating our advice against the postponement or suspension of the election altogether. In terms of capacity-building, the EOP trained a team of observers to carry out an evidence-based observation mission at the district level on the polling day. As a pilot project, the EOP has attracted strong local and international media attention which further enhanced the public profile of the Department and CGPC’s expertise in political studies, our depiction of the election as a de facto referendum has been widely reported and accepted discourse to make sense of the electoral process and outcomes. In 2020, EOP members were invited to join election observation missions in Taiwan and Sri Lanka, respectively.

EOP has examined incidents of electoral malpractice and encouraged civic participation in defense of electoral integrity, which in our view has a positive effect on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies through developing effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16). EOP’s theoretical and methodological frameworks are developed with reference to international standards for democratic elections—including but not limited to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, as well as authoritative international academic research on electoral integrity and election observations in different parts of the world. For that, EOP has set up an International Advisory Group.

With reference to the best practice of international election observations and election sciences, the project is designed to operate along a global-local nexus: (1) We intend to introduce and explain the international norms and standards of democratic elections and defend their applicability to Hong Kong under the law, which involves the Special Administrative Region’s international obligations; (2) We welcome international and local collaborations, its members are committed to ensure a high level of openness, responsibility and responsiveness in every aspect of their decisions, activities and research; and (3) The project has made use of media statements, social media platforms and observation reports at various stages to provide local and international users with accurate and valuable information. All this has been developed in accordance with GIS’s Strategy on Impact.  

For example, on 6 April 2020, EOP has published a comprehensive Submission to the Electoral Affairs Commission’s Proposed Guidelines for the Legislative Council Election. This policy-level submission has been part and partial of an on-going project which brings together scholarly research in areas of Comparative Electoral Studies and Hong Kong Studies and the civil society entrepreneurship to critically reflect on the overall impacts on electoral management and civil rights in Hong Kong. We intend to present our findings at the 2020 Election Sciences, Reform, and Administration Conference organized by the University of Florida. 

As for the second half of 2020, EOP aims at preparing the civil society and enabling the public at large to exercise their rights to take part in systematic observations of the Legislative Council  Election in September. Building on the earlier successes and reflecting on potential areas of improvement, international and local experts are being gathered together under the auspices of this project to prepare a more thorough and comprehensive programme to scrutinize and conduct research on not only the management of the elections but also the conducts of the contesting parties and candidates throughout a six-month period. Alongside, the pre-election period will be a preparation for the Election Day monitoring and logistics that include recruiting and training observers, development of deployment plans and definition of communication and reporting systems. On-site monitoring will be carried out by 2,400 observers who will observe and report in a nonpartisan manner at all polling and counting stations. The budget amounts to USD 320,000 (HKD 2.5 million), which means the CGPC Director has been quite busy with preparing funding applications.

We are also studying how the coronavirus outbreak may affect the elections. We shall prepare a set of recommendations for the election to take place in orderly and safe conditions. We are not at all interested in giving the Government an excuse to declare emergency and postpone the election altogether to an unspecified future.

Election Observation Project

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