A vote not cast is an opportunity lost

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 September, 2008, 12:00am

Will Audrey Eu Yuet-mee become the biggest loser in today's Legislative Council election? How likely is Wong Yuk-man to grab a seat in Kowloon West? Will Chan Yuen-han pull off a small miracle by scooping an extra seat for her ticket in Kowloon East?

Above all, is the warning that the pan-democratic camp will miss its minimum target of 21 seats in the next Legislative Council a mere scare tactic?

Those are the questions political players and observers are keen to know the answers to after ballot boxes are sealed at 10.30pm.

The short answer to them all is this: the only certainty is uncertainty. The other question people could be forgiven for asking is: does any of this matter?

Given that the business sector dominates the functional constituencies, cynics may dismiss the legislature as doomed to be dominated by the pro-government camp.

True, the government will still enjoy a comfortable majority in terms of support, sufficient for it to secure passage of major legislation. So the question of who wins what could be dismissed as unimportant.

That need not be the case.

Admittedly, under the present electoral system Legco can never fairly represent the views of everyone.

While 3.37 million have registered to cast their ballots in the poll for 30 directly elected seats, 212,000 have another vote to choose 30 functional-constituency representatives.

That is not the only unfairness. Fourteen of the 30 functional-constituency seats will be filled without a contest. Some of those who will fill the seats have been given a failing grade in appraisal reports compiled by an independent watchdog.

Despite a record turnout of 55.63 per cent and a favourable political setting in 2004, the pan-democratic camp only managed to muster 25 seats. Given that it is a pipe dream to suggest pan-democrats will win a majority of seats, the camp's supporters may wonder why there is so much interest in its final tally of seats.

Much has been said by the pan-democrats about why holding at least 21 seats matters to them - it means they can block any undemocratic electoral model the government puts forward for electing the chief executive and all legislators in 2012.

The reality is that there is still a fair chance of the government being able to pre-empt the democrats' power of veto through lobbying, particularly if the pan-democratic camp were to hold only 21 seats. A swing of a couple of votes to the government would tip the balance.

For the legislature to serve as an effective check on the government when it comes to constitutional reform and a number of important issues set to be put on the Legco agenda in the next four years, a better balance between the government-friendly forces and the pan-democratic camp is desirable.

This is particularly important when the administration of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has become increasingly arrogant in exercising its powers and dismissive of the wisdom of the people.

Unlike previous elections, which were marked by the rivalry between the pro- democracy camp and the pro-Beijing and pro-government camp, this year's campaign has been marked by fierce competition within both camps for votes.

In the past few days, voters may have found candidates' 'critical situation' calls at best confusing, if not disturbing.

Inspired by the mantra of change that is a feature of the US presidential election, candidates of various political backgrounds have sought to instil a feeling of hope by embracing change themselves.

Pragmatic-minded Hongkongers know well that their votes today will only bring limited changes, if any, to the political scene.

Every vote still counts, however, when it comes to choosing people who can do a better job of ensuring the government performs better. An opportunity not taken is an opportunity lost.