That sinking feeling on a day of indifference

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

With the atmosphere of political agitation that has prevailed since the July 1 rallies started in 2003 now thinning, a sizeable drop in turnout was to be expected.

A lower-than-expected figure spoke volumes for a feeling of fatigue mixed with a degree of indifference, disillusionment and helplessness over developments in society.

The dampening of voters' enthusiasm could also be attributed to factors such as a hangover from the Beijing Olympics, and controversy over exit polls.

The fact that the issue of universal suffrage has become marginalised following Beijing's decision on a timetable last December was also a significant disincentive.

Even though pan-democrat candidates still flew the banner of democracy, their campaign shifted to practical issues such as monitoring malpractice by officials, eliminating government-business collusion and improving people's livelihoods.

These are undoubtedly genuine concerns shared by many people, and the government's failure to address them explained the administration's falling popularity, recorded in polls over the past six months.

Conventional wisdom has it that the stronger the feeling of dissatisfaction towards the government the higher the motivation for people to express their anger through the ballot box.

Numbers also speak. All five major parties, including the Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats, both founded in the past two years, fielded candidates in each geographical constituency.

But the low turnout showed voters were not impressed and found more did not mean better.

Candidates may have felt they had done their best to reinvent themselves in areas such as election stunts and image-building. But the public felt they were the same old faces. Except for Kowloon West, where there were several new faces, such as Michael Tien Puk-sun and Wong Yuk-man, in electoral politics, voters could be forgiven for failing to be excited and inspired by the lists of candidates in the other four constituencies.

Of the 1.78 million people who cast their votes in 2004, many held out the hope for change through the ballot box - just as they voted with their feet on July 1, 2003.

However, candidates from across the political spectrum failed to persuade electors that they would be able to become agents of change.

From this perspective, there were hardly any winners yesterday.