Lawmaker defends spoiled-ballot inciter offense

Top News | Sophie Hui 15 Apr 2021

Lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun says there is "no logical issue" if a new offense tied to blank voting is created, citing as an example prostitution in Hong Kong, which is legal, though pimping is not.

His comments came as the government announced that people would be banned from inciting voters to cast blank or invalid votes under the electoral changes bill tabled in the Legislative Council. Such an offense would carry up to three years in jail.

Speaking on television, Tse also used suicide to explain that there is "no logical issue" in the new voting offense.

"Suicide is not against the law, but it is illegal if I advocate other people to commit suicide," he said.

"Another example is prostitution, which is not against the law. There is no problem with the brothel itself, but you will be in trouble if you run one. Therefore, casting a blank vote and organizing people to cast blank ballots are two different things."

Executive Councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah said the government's move responds to the National People's Congress Standing Committee's demands on preventing people from disrupting elections - and people should "stop making a fuss about it."

He added: "People shouldn't be surprised because these rules only apply to public activities. It is illegal to organize public activities that encourage others to cast a blank or spoiled ballot, or not to vote.

"These won't apply to conversations among a few friends, for example, at bus stops or MTR stations."

He said the offense targets "incitement to cast an invalid vote publicly, which would cause severe repercussions, as opposed to individuals exercising their rights."

Asked whether it would be a breach if anyone comments online that they cast a blank ballot, Tong said: "Generally speaking, if you talk about your own affairs, it is not a public event and should not be regulated."

But it would be up to the courts to decide "whether you want the public to be affected." He added people should not try to look for loopholes.

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said the looming new offense will do the opposite of its intended goal and end up encouraging the public to cast invalid votes.

"People will think: 'the more you restrict me, the more I will do that,' " Lo said.

He also believes the voter turnout rate in upcoming elections would be lower than the district council election in November 2019, which had a 71.2 percent turnout rate. Many who supported the pro-democracy camp will not be inclined to vote, he Lo added.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen said she is optimistic about the new electoral system and hopes for a high voter turnout.

"This is for the benefit of the whole society, so I hope the people of Hong Kong will vote in the coming election and I do hope that we'll have a high voting rate," Mak said.

"The government can do more promotion and propaganda on this issue so Hong Kong people will know the ultimate goal of this electoral reform is to ensure we'll have a constructive and efficient council."

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