Hong Kong will not regulate the casting of blank ballots in the laws it is drafting to implement Beijing’s radical overhaul of the city’s electoral system, but the new legislation could make organising or inciting others to do so illegal, the city’s leader has confirmed.
Meeting the press before her weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: “We respect each voter’s right to choose, and making whatever display [they wish] with the ballots allocated to them is their freedom. The government will not regulate their choice, whether it is to choose a candidate or no candidate at all, or to damage the ballot to invalidate it.
“[But] If we are talking about organising and … inciting voters during an election to collectively take action, then that could be considered damaging or manipulating an election, and would be easy to distinguish [from casting blank ballots].”
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To date, no opposition party has called for the use of blank ballots, but the question of banning the potential protest method has become the subject of escalating debate after top ministers such as Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai floated the possibility last week.
Sources told the Post on Monday that Hong Kong officials would leave nothing to chance when it came to implementing the Beijing-mandated political overhaul, and planned to lay out a “watertight” set of amendments on Wednesday.
Making it illegal to advocate for the casting of blank ballots was among the expected moves, sources revealed, while a redrawing of geographical boundaries to further weaken any advantage the opposition might still have was also on the cards.
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, last month voted to expand Hong Kong’s Legislative Council from 70 to 90 seats, but skewed the odds distinctly in favour of the pro-establishment camp.
Under the new scheme, 40 lawmakers will now come from the powerful, establishment-dominated Election Committee, while another 30 will hail from the functional constituencies, leaving just 20 directly elected by residents of geographical districts.
Critics have lambasted the changes as drastically shrinking residents’ political rights.
But Lam on Tuesday said the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and various decisions laid down by the standing committee in Beijing, guaranteed Hong Kong people’s right to elect and be elected.
Lam refused to give further details of what the wide-ranging amendments might encompass, saying they would be unveiled in Legco on Wednesday.
She added that her administration would be organising a webinar on Thursday morning to commemorate National Security Education Day.
“Part of the theme [of the webinar] is that we need political security to ensure national security,” she said, pointing to the changes soon to come before Legco.
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