Poll officials keen to boost voter figures

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am


After the high turnout for Friday's pro-democracy march, there's little doubt that Hongkongers are politically fired up this year, but how will this translate to voter turnout at polling booths?

At the last Legislative Council election in 2008, there were 3.4 million registered voters on the electoral roll, reflecting a relatively high level of political participation.

However, the number of registered voters does not always reflect the level of political participation.

In 2008, fewer than half of those who could vote chose to go to the polling booths, with just 1.5 million voters (or 45 per cent) casting their preferences. At the 2004 Legislative Council elections, the voter turnout jumped to 55 per cent of registered voters. In 2000 it was 44 per cent.

Voting in Hong Kong is not compulsory and those who do vote must be at least 18 years old and have permanent residency.

A spokesman for the Registration and Electoral Office said that according to the latest final register of electors, which was released last July, about 73 per cent of eligible voters had registered as electors.

Yesterday, a mini-concert was organised by the Registration and Electoral Office to urge people to register to vote in the upcoming district council elections, with applications to close in less than two weeks.

About 100 screaming young fans greeted several Canto-pop singers at the Olympian City shopping centre in West Kowloon as they talked about the importance of voting, while government staff called on people to register to vote at the nearby booth.

Although district council elections are not generally considered as important as Legco elections, they indirectly influence the candidates for Legco positions.

Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, associate professor in government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the existing system did not encourage more people to join in the political process.

'Hong Kong voters are as involved as citizens elsewhere,' he said. 'The difficulty here is that by not having a fully elected Legislative Council, 30 of the 60 seats are not available for contest by ordinary citizens.'

Chan said out of those eligible voters, only 220,000 citizens had a second vote to choose the functional seat representatives.

'People are eager, they are concerned and pay a lot of attention, but their involvement is limited. The hope is we are moving towards universal suffrage for the 60 seats and the chief executive's position,' he said.

'You will have noticed at the July 1 rally that Hong Kong citizens enjoy their freedom of expression and their rights of association, so I'm sure they will take advantage of available channels like elections,' he said. 'There's a very vibrant civil society here in Hong Kong and I believe people have got more fired up in recent years.'

Additional reporting by Jacqui Yin and Helene Franchineau