Jail officials urged to push inmates to vote

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 April, 2009, 12:00am

A human rights group has urged jail officials to encourage prisoners to register as voters after the government indicated it would remove the voting ban for inmates.

Human Rights Commission chairman Ho Hei-wah said a delay would make a mockery of the policy change, which was prompted after the High Court in December ruled the voting ban unconstitutional.

'Officials should first encourage prisoners to register as electors first. Otherwise, it will be meaningless to talk about allowing them to vote.'

Of the approximately 10,000 people in jail at the end of last year, about 5,500 were permanent residents who, if not in jail, would be eligible to vote. But only about 1,600 were registered voters.

Major political parties have indicated that candidates may canvass by sending election brochures to prisons, instead of going to meet the inmates in person.

But Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political analyst at Chinese University, said lifting the ban would fail to make much of an impact on elections.

'They [parties] are unlikely to pour in resources to canvass in prisons because it would not be cost-effective ... It would not make much difference to the election results even if a candidate could get a few hundred more votes from prisoners.'

The government hoped an amendment bill could be introduced to the Legislative Council in the current legislative session.

Mr Ho said he disagreed with Paul Harris, another rights campaigner, who had said inmates serving long sentences for serious crimes should not have the right to vote.