Scholars defend blank ballots

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 12:00am

ACADEMICS have accused senior electoral officials of trying to control voters' behaviour after advising people not to cast blank ballots.

They warned that such a suggestion breached the principles of democracy and predicted more people would cast blank ballots as a subtle protest against the undemocratic system of government.

But Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Michael Suen Ming-yeung said yesterday there was no reason for voters to take such action.

'Blank ballots will not be counted and they are wasted ballots,' he said. 'The election this time sees the biggest number of candidates participating and there is no reason a voter cannot make a good choice.'

His remarks echoed those made on Friday by the Electoral Affairs Commission chairman, Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing, who said: '[A voter] must have a preference in mind. Casting a blank ballot is equal to saying you do not trust the candidates.'

But Dr Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, said: 'Casting blank ballots is also a decision by voters. It signals that they do not like any of the candidates. The Government should respect voters' decision.'

And University of Science and Technology's assistant professor Ma Ngok said: 'A truly free society is where a voter is free to choose to vote or not to vote, or even write a poem on the ballot.'

City University social science lecturer Ivan Choi Chi-keung said: 'The meaning of an election should not be determined by the Government. A voter can do whatever he wants.

'If he cannot make a choice, it is natural he will leave the ballot blank. It is also a good signal to the Government. Why does he have to be blamed?'

Assistant professor Wilson Wong Wai-ho, of the Chinese University's department of government and public administration, said a blank ballot signalled voters were unhappy with voting arrangements.

One group of voters complained yesterday that rigid election rules left them with no choice but to cast blank ballots.

Ten members of the Election Committee, all from the Professional Teachers' Union, said they were unhappy with the election platforms of some candidates from the committee.

The Election Committee consists of 800 members, mostly pro-Beijing figures. Six legislators will be chosen from 10 candidates. Each Election Committee member has to choose six candidates.

Member Au Pak-kuen said: 'We cannot vote for one or two people only. But we do not want to vote for those whose platforms we do not support, just to make our ballots valid. So we have no choice but cast blank ballots.'

Some 3.06 million voters can cast ballots at the Legco election today. Mr Suen declined to speculate on the turnout but believed it would not be hurt by recent scandals.

Voting stations will close at 10.30pm today and results are expected by noon tomorrow.