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Calls for blank ballots will draw 3-year jail term

2021-04-13 HKT 16:43
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  • Calls for blank ballots will draw 3-year jail term
  • Ten new geographical constituencies will return 20 legislators in December, down from 35 in the current Legco.
    Ten new geographical constituencies will return 20 legislators in December, down from 35 in the current Legco.
Maggie Ho reports
The government is formally proposing to make it a crime for people to urge others to cast blank or spoiled ballots, or not vote at all, as it unveiled a host of bills to amend local laws in line with the sweeping electoral reforms initiated by Beijing last month.

It would also be a crime to obstruct or prevent people from casting a ballot. Both offences would be punishable by up to three years in prison.

“If someone openly incites voters not to vote, or cast blank or invalid votes during an election period, it may create undue pressure on voters and affect their freedom to choose whether to exercise their right to vote,” a government paper submitted to Legco said.

“Such a conduct is one of the acts that can sabotage an election, and the HKSAR Government is therefore obliged to regulate it,” it added.

Officials also cited online calls for people to take away the identity cards of elderly voters ahead of the 2019 District Council elections, saying this demonstrates the need for a new law to prevent anyone from intentionally obstructing other people from voting in an election.

At a press conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the new law banning calls for protest votes would not be overreaching.

“There are certain… defenses that any person could deploy… If you do it behind closed doors among yourself and a few friends, that perhaps would not be an offence,” she assured.

Lam also stressed the need for the local authorities to impose the new restriction, saying “we all want elections to be very fair, so any manipulation to jeopardise or sabotage an election should not be permitted in a situation like Hong Kong.”

Political analyst Ma Ngok said the government wanted to use the new offences to prevent boycott action against the Legco election.

"I think it shows the government has very weak confidence in its own system in attracting voter participation," he said.

"And also I think they expected a lot of boycott action, and so they try to make it illegal... but there's no law which can forbid people from campaigning for a boycott of the election... so they need to put in new legislation."

The government also said special priority queues will be set up in future polls for voters aged 70 or above, along with pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses, injuries or disabilities — so they can avoid long waits.

The paper also laid out detailed arrangements for how the expanded 1,500-member Election Committee will be selected in an election to be held on September 19.

The powerful body will nominate all legislators and select 40 of them through block-voting.

That means each member selects 40 members, and the 40 individuals with the most votes at the end will win the seats.

All members will be required to swear allegiance to the SAR, and vow to uphold the Basic Law.

The Election Committee would also keep its current role of choosing the chief executive, with the next election set for March 27.

Authorities also unveiled the 10 new geographical constituencies that will return 20 of the 90 new legislators to be chosen on December 19.

The New Territories will be split into five new constituencies – three in Kowloon and two for Hong Kong Island. That’s up from the current five constituencies across Hong Kong.

Two lawmakers will be returned from each constituency, though the overall number of directly-elected legislators will be halved.

Carrie Lam said the new constituencies were created by combining smaller existing constituencies set for past District Council polls, taking into account the size of the population to ensure a fair distribution.

“We are following the established rule that is within a range… it would not have a district that is too huge, too large and another one which is too small.”
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Last updated: 2021-04-13 HKT 22:04