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Published: 22:06, November 28, 2021 | Updated: 09:38, November 29, 2021
It's time to investigate HKPORI for incitement
By Tony Kwok
Published:22:06, November 28, 2021 Updated:09:38, November 29, 2021 By Tony Kwok

Tony Kwok says the organization should abandon its survey, whose real purpose is to mislead the public.

With the enactment of the National Security Law  for Hong Kong on June 30, 2020, the full picture of the anti-China, anti-establishment opposition camp has slowly come into view. Backed by Western powers, their organization chart includes political parties such as the Civic Party; labor unions such as the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions; academics such as Assistant Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting of the University of Hong Kong; media organizations such as Apple Daily; and so-called human rights groups such as the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor. The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, while it presents itself as an objective and apolitical professional surveyor, should now also be lumped with the opposition camp for its questionable activities.

In reality, the HKPORI is merely a reincarnation of the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong after it ceased operation on June 30, 2019. Its founder, Dr Robert Chung, has been active in local politics as a closet supporter of the political opposition. Its modus operandi would appear to most independent observers as skewed to favor the anti-establishment camp. For example, shortly after reunification, it launched a series of surveys asking the loaded question whether the respondents considered themselves “Chinese” or “Hongkonger”. Such leading questions sowed the seeds for the independence movement in Hong Kong.

According to media reports, the POP was found to have accepted funding in 2014 from the National Democratic Institute, a front for the US Central Intelligence Agency, to conduct political surveys in Hong Kong, and even allowing NDI Hong Kong Branch Manager Kelvin Sit to manipulate the questionnaires so as to elicit answers that align with their political agenda. Chung had collaborated with Tai to manipulate the choice of election candidates for the opposition and orchestrated the voting pattern of their supporters on election day to maximize their impact.

The law (Election (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance) describes the definition of the illegal activity as to include “the distribution or dissemination of any matter to the public”. Hence by conducting the survey to ascertain the number of respondents prepared to cast blank votes and disseminating the results of the survey, it likely constitutes a prima facie case of incitement

When the POP left HKU, they announced that they would reduce the number of political surveys because of their resource constraints. Yet at this critical juncture, just before the first Legislative Council election under the revamped electoral system, they suddenly announced their plan to conduct three surveys on the upcoming LegCo election. It’s clearly part of the opposition’s last-gasp attempt to sabotage the revamped LegCo election. The big question is: Where did the funding for these surveys come from?

The common objective of public opinion surveys on elections all over the world is to rate the popularity of the election candidates. But for the HKPORI, as explained in their press conference, it’s clearly more interested in registering the number of respondents who would cast blank votes. As this is clearly irrelevant to the primary objective of election surveys, there is undoubtedly an ulterior motive behind this exercise.

Under Section 27A of the Election (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, it is a criminal offense to “incite another person not to vote, or to cast invalid votes”. The maximum penalty for which is three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000 ($25,670). Although the organizer is very clever in emphasizing at their press conference that they are not inciting anyone to cast blank votes, the law has made it clear that in determining whether it is an incitement, regard must be made to all circumstances of the case, including the intent and contents of the activity (the real object of the survey), the intended audience of the activity (the respondents that might be incited to cast blank votes); and the circumstances in which the activity is carried out (with the survey highlighting the number of people intending to cast blank votes prior to the actual election). The law describes the definition of the illegal activity as to include “the distribution or dissemination of any matter to the public”. Hence by conducting the survey to ascertain the number of respondents prepared to cast blank votes and disseminating the results of the survey, it likely constitutes a prima facie case of incitement.

As pointed out by the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation in their public statement, the real purpose of the public opinion survey conducted by the HKPORI is to mislead the public and to support those who try to sabotage the revamped LegCo election, providing an encouraging and inciting effect. The foundation believes that the HKPORI might have already committed the above election offense as well as another criminal offense under Section 89 of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance (Cap 221) “for aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring the commission by another person of any offense”. The law enforcement agency concerned in this matter, the Independent Commission Against Corruption as well as the police, should proactively consider opening an investigation. As this case involves untested legal gray areas, it should also seek legal guidance as soon as possible.

It is also high time that the Police National Security Department look into the operations of the HKPORI, including the source of their funding, the identities of their donors and whether they have maintained their connections with foreign organizations such as the NDI. If need be, a court order should be obtained to force the full disclosure of all their financial assets and transactions, and similar disclosures by all individuals involved in managing the organization. The HKPORI would be wise to stop their public opinion survey on the election or it may face the same consequences as those of their associates now languishing in jail.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space, a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and a former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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