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Li Sijie|City University of Hong Kong
Several media recently reported cases of vote-rigging involving mental handicapped voters in Hong Kong. These cases provoke the intense discussion about Hong Kong mental handicapped people's legal suffrage among local mental handicapped people, social workers and other citizens.
According to the provisional voters profile, 14 people living in the Shan King Estate dormitory under New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association have registered as voters in August, 2015. The dormitory said they all voluntarily registered. However, they replied the reporters as knowing nothing about the voting registration when being asked. Moreover, all of them are identified as medium intelligent handicapped which means they do not have the legal right to vote in Hong Kong. Similar cases appeared in Yuen Long, Hung Hom, Tuen Mun and Tai Po through 2014 and 2015. These situations were noticed and reported by several media and were suspected as illegal "vote planting". Legislative councilor Chueng Chiu Hung said that the mental handicapped people were illegally manipulated by some parties for the rapid growth of their supporting votes and he called for careful attentions on similar cases.
It is no doubt that illegal "vote-planting" cases must be punished and cleared by strict investigation and supervision. However, these cases also raised the discussion on an important topic: should Hong Kong offer legal suffrage to mental handicapped people? The fact that mental handicapped people are easily manipulated for negative purposes even in situations that they do not have legal suffrage supports the argues of parties who are against offering this right to them.
Hong Kong government has promised 5 million qualified voters legal rights to vote , electing their own Chief Executive in 2017. However, the <Legislative Council Ordinance> and the <District Council Ordinance> still prohibit the suffrage of people with challenged mental or intelligence conditions identified by the <Hong Kong Mental Health Ordinance>. Therefore, the issue of admitting the legal suffrage of mental handicapped people is argued intensively and continuously in Hong Kong.
Mok Chun Wai, a professional social worker that works with mental handicapped students' education programs in City Youth Empowerment Project expressed his opinions on this issue in an interview. He used the term "consciousness" to describe mental handicapped people's situations. "They are conscious of the society and the way people treat them," he said, "although their intelligence may not reach an average level, they know who is kind to them. They have their preference." He mentioned that a lot of mental handicapped students in his programs took political relevant courses and had basic knowledge of the voting process. "Their eyes were sparkling when I told them the universal suffrage may come true in 2017," he described, "they are really looking forward to this right too!" He also argued that the <Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities> released by United Nations require equal political rights for every handicapped person and the Hong Kong government's act of prohibiting this suffrage is violating this convention. In terms of the vote-planting cases, he expressed his hope to strengthen the regulation and supervising systems. "The mental handicapped people are also victims in these cases," he said, "the right thing to do is not depriving them of their basic rights because they are vulnerable to manipulators but strengthening the supervising system to protect them from being manipulated." He have been interacting with over 500 local mental handicapped students and confirmed his belief through this process.
Nevertheless, there are also experts of public policy expressing their concerns of the actual political effect after the realization of mental handicapped people's legal suffrage. Chris Wong, a student in his sophomore year majoring in the department Public Policy of City University of Hong Kong, worried that mental handicapped people are not rational enough for voting process. "The law only prohibited suffrage of people with intelligence less than 70. It is quite hard for people in these populations to understand the whole political situation and the conflict of interests between different parties." He said, "they can easily trust someone they are familiar with, which offers politicians opportunities to utilize them for supporting votes." He raised the issue that it is hard to define manipulation and impossible to clear all the vote-rigging acts just by regulations. He mentioned the attitude of Barnabus Fung, the chairman of Electoral Affairs Commissions. It is reported that Fun had admitted the act of instructing groups of elder people living in rest homes to vote for one particular party during tea-talk time with media. It is still illegal now to manipulate mental handicapped people since they do not have legal suffrage. But once that suffrage is offered, the parties may utilize them more frequently without restrictions."
Numerous interviewees also mentioned some different policies on this issue of other parts of the world. Among which Britain and Australia were mentioned most frequently. It is reported that Britain has established official websites that explain details of voting process and parties' conditions to help those mental handicapped people to understand the political situation. Australia has set up a periodic evaluation system to determine whether particular mental handicapped person can participate in voting or not. These actions are accepted globally and Legislative councilor Chueng Chiu Hung proposed that Hong Kong may follow these examples.
Mok Chun Wai, professional social worker in City Youth Empowerment Project
Chris Wong, year 2 student majoring in Public Policy Department of City University of Hong Kong
Fang Shimeng, voluntary worker who works in mental handicapped students' education program offered by City Youth Empowerment Project
Two others who do not want their personal information be given away