Turnout won't stop the wind of change

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 September, 2004, 12:00am

Negative feelings and voter apathy may keep the numbers lower

Six years ago, 'vengeance votes' pushed the turnout in the first post-handover Legislative Council election to a historic high. About 1.49 million people - 53 per cent of registered voters - cast their ballots to displace the undemocratic provisional legislature.

Two years later, and overcome by a feeling of political futility, voters shunned the ballot box. Only 1.33 million voted, a turnout of 43.5 per cent.

With two days to go before this year's Legco poll, the guessing game is on the turnout.

Yesterday, a group of academics from Baptist University estimated from their own poll findings that turnout would be 54 to 56 per cent. Given there are 3.2 million registered voters, that means 1.7 million to 1.8 million people casting their ballots. The Baptist poll says the number of people who intend to vote has been rising in the past week.

The University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme predicted turnout of 49 to 53 per cent.

A high-ranking government official predicted the turnout was unlikely to exceed the 53 per cent seen in 1998. He said voter enthusiasm had waned because of a marked improvement in the political and economic atmosphere in the past year.

HKU opinion poll results out this week showed a rebound in the popularity of the chief executive and the central and Hong Kong governments.

The official said voters might also be deterred from voting because of frustration and disappointment with the performance of the last legislature.

Pundits said the blitz of negative publicity directed at candidates from leading parties, and an excess of smear tactics, could also dampen the enthusiasm to vote.

If the turnout is a record in absolute and in percentage terms, it would hardly be a surprise given the deep-seated change in the political landscape since the July 1 rally last year.

It would offer further proof of society's rising political awareness and civic-mindedness and of people's understanding of the importance of coming out and being counted - in rallies and elections.

The negative mood about the elections may yet prevail. Still, it is unlikely to be strong enough to reverse the wind of change or weaken the aspiration for participatory politics.