To cast a vote or a blank vote is no easy question︱Chris Yeung

Published (HKT): 2021.04.07 11:00

To cast a vote or a blank vote is no easy question if the Government moves to make casting a blank vote an offence.

The issue of blank vote popped up on Sunday when the Secretary for Justice, Teresa Cheng, said the Government would study whether there needed to be more regulation to prevent voters from casting blank votes.

She said at a TV programme casting a vote was the civic responsibility of citizens. At present, there is no law against casting blank votes.

The passage of a package of new arrangements for electing the chief executive and an expanded Legislative Council featuring a bigger - and direct - role of Beijing in the local elections by China’s national legislature has sparked calls within the pro-democracy circle for a boycott, or kind of.

Instead of shunning the polls, there are calls for people to cast blank votes to protest against the retrogression of the city’s ill-fated democratic development.

Even though the pro-democracy voters will never be able to win the polls under the new game rules, they could still be able to make the elections look bad by pushing the tally of blank votes to an embarrassing high point.

It is not surprising the justice chief has called on people not to do so. But trying to stop people from doing so through new law or regulation is a different matter, raising serious questions about whether it is right for the Government to do so, not to mention its practicality.

More importantly, Cheng’s remarks highlighting people’s responsibility of casting votes say nothing about people’s right to vote. If Cheng is sincere in stressing people’s responsibility in voting, she has adopted a double standard when she backed Beijing’s moves to take away people’s right to vote.

Under the new electoral arrangements, the number of geographical constituency seats will be trimmed down from 35 to 20. All candidates will have to seek nominations from a 1,500-member Election Committee, of which more than three-quarters belong to the pro-Beijing and pro-establishment camp. They will also have to be subjected to screening by a vetting panel composed of principal officials, plus a probe by national security officials for their deeds and words in politics.

It could not be more satirical and hypocritical that top officials have now asked people to be good citizens to cast a vote after having slashing their right to elect lawmakers and the chief executive.

Cheng said: “(We need to study) what we can do to ensure our election is conducted in an open, fair and honest manner so that all voters can exercise their right and fulfil their responsibility to cast a vote.” It is exactly because the public no longer trusts the election system as being fair and honest that the idea of casting blank votes has resonated in their minds.

It is difficult to assess the degree of support for casting blank votes in the society at this stage. But the more the Government has tried to impose their orders onto the people the stronger the public in resisting the government moves.

Moreover, highly provocative remarks by some pro-establishment figures serve no purpose but pour more oil to the fire.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker, Paul Tse, said on Monday that people might be committing a crime, if they called on others to cast blank votes. Although it is not a crime in law for people to cast blank votes, Tse said someone calling on others to do so in an organized manner might amount to subversion under the national security law, or other criminal offences.

With the pro-democracy camp being dismembered, it looks unlikely that they will be able to mount any organized political acts such as a “casting blank votes” campaign in the next election, not to mention high legal risk involved in view of the national security law.

Still, officials and pro-establishment political figures grew uneasy as the talking of casting blank votes began to surface on social media.

That could not be more ironic.

This is because both the central government and the Lam administration should have nothing to fear if the new election system marks a new era of the city’s development being put back on the right track as they have reckoned. The public should have felt relieved and glad and will therefore be even more enthusiastic in turning out to cast their votes.

The truth is that many people rightly see the election as a meaningless exercise with everything under Beijing’s control. The effectiveness and fairness of an election are in doubt if it fails to provide a list of real choices of candidates for voters to pick the one he or she prefers.

The election system fails to serve its original purpose because of the moves by Beijing and Carrie Lam to overhaul it. It was not made dysfunctional because of voters’ doubts about casting votes, but the decisions by the two governments.

First it was the national security law, then came the election overhaul. Leading loyalists including former chief executive Leung Chun-ying have repeatedly warned people not to underestimate the determination of the central government to take bold and drastic action to remedy the ills of Hong Kong.

Given Beijing’s strong determination, they should be fully prepared to accept all consequences including a boycott of the election by the democrats and a massive number of “blank votes”.

Now, they feel panic about the scenarios of democrats shunning the election and a massive number of blank votes in ballot boxes. They can only have themselves to blame for their election overkill.

(Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of CitizenNews, an online news platform, is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.)

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