Dearth of issues, better economy seen as factors in low turnout

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am

The lack of clear and outstanding election issues amid improved socio-economic conditions was blamed for a lower turnout yesterday than in the last election.

After the close of polling the turnout rate was provisionally put at 45 per cent, well below the 55.6 per cent in the Legislative Council election in 2004.

Li Pang-kwong, an associate professor of political science at Lingnan University, said the low turnout could likely be attributed to improved social and economic conditions.

'Last time, the ambience of the society was rather tense while the economic situation was far worse,' he said 'So there is less urgency this time for the voters to come out to express their views. This is quite natural.'

But Professor Li said lower turnout had also been expected because of an increase in the number of registered voters, from 3.1 million to 3.3 million.

He said the record number of candidates might have confused some voters, deterring them from coming out.

Ma Ngok, an associate professor of government and public administration at Chinese University, said intense competition among the large number of candidates should have spurred a higher turnout, but this had not come about.

'The turnout rate is rather disappointing even though there are still high uncertainties of who might win the last seat in some geographical constituencies,' Professor Ma said.

He said that while the previous Legco election was associated with hotly debated issues such as universal suffrage and the unpopularity of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, he still found the turnout disappointingly low.

'Compared with less important district council elections, a 40 per cent-plus turnout rate is very disappointing,' he said.

Professor Ma said the number was puzzling, especially when it was compared with the 52 per cent in the Hong Kong Island by-election last year. He said a detailed analysis was needed to see whether the low turnout was an across-the-board trend or a phenomenon specific to such sectors as the middle class or young voters.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, an assistant professor of government and public administration at Chinese University, said fears of a change in the political equilibrium in 2004 had prompted voters from major camps to come out.

That year 'was the peak of unpopularity of the Tung administration', he said. 'On the one hand, some had wanted a major change in the legislature, while on the other some feared such a change could lead to a political knock-on effect.'

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said whether voters would turn out would depend on whether political parties and their candidates were worthy of support.

He said the government had done a lot to boost voter turnout and spent about HK$45 million on voter registration and publicity in the past few months.