Long-term prisoners may be denied the vote

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 February, 2009, 12:00am

The government is proposing to deny the vote to prisoners serving sentences of more than 10 years.

It is one of three ideas published for public discussion yesterday - two months after the High Court threw out the current blanket ban on inmates of Hong Kong jails voting.

The three proposals are: to allow all prisoners to vote apart from those convicted of election-related offences or bribery; disqualifying from voting all prisoners serving jail sentences which exceed a certain length, for instance 10 years; or banning prisoners serving such sentences from voting until they are within a few years - for example, five - of release.

The government is also proposing that polling stations - including mobile ones - be set up in prisons rather than allowing prisoners out of jail to cast their ballots or letting them vote by post. It says the proposal would answer concerns about confidentiality, vote buying and public security.

Security concerns and disruption to operations would arise if a lot of candidates and election agents were canvassing in a prison, it notes.

The public has six weeks to comment on the ideas.

The discussion paper setting out the proposals notes that some countries, such as Norway, restrict the voting rights of prisoners convicted of certain crimes restrictions.

However, it says the Hong Kong government prefers to use length of sentence as a criterion for imposing restrictions.

'It would be easier and more objective for the courts and administration if the restriction were determined on the basis of duration of imprisonment,' Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said.

Mr Lam said the government was open to all suggestions on the issue.

At the end of December, there were 5,411 Hong Kong prisoners; 1,700 of them were registered voters; 779 were serving a sentence of 10 years or more, including indeterminate sentences.

Some 300 of 900 prisoners on remand were registered voters.