The Legco election campaign has not aroused much public attention so far. With the media dominated by issues like the Diaoyu Islands dispute, the Olympic Games, beaches awash with plastic pellets, the prevailing indifference is hardly surprising. In the coming weeks, candidates from across the political spectrum are expected to step up canvassing. There will be more opportunities for rivals to debate their platforms in open forums. Hopefully, the community can develop a stronger interest in the coming polls.
Public awareness aside, issues like candidates' quality and the voting method can have an impact on one's readiness to vote. This year, we have more candidates to choose from. A record 287 candidates have just been cleared by the electoral authority to join the fray on September 9. For the first time, all voters will have two votes, one in the geographical polls and the other one in the so-called super seats, in which five district councillors will be returned. All these should, in theory, induce a more enthusiastic response from the public.
That said, voter apathy should not be underestimated. A recent survey by the Democratic Party shows a worrying lack of understanding of the new game among voters. Although two in every three respondents have heard of one person, two votes, most do not know who are eligible. Just a quarter know the super seats will be a citywide ballot of the 3.2 million voters who do not have a vote in any other functional constituency. About a fifth are under the misunderstanding that the ballot is confined to district councillors.
The findings should be a matter of concern to the Electoral Authority. As the party rightly pointed out, voters may be under the mistaken impression that they can choose two tickets in the same geographical constituency under one person, two votes. Should such confusion arise, there is a danger that many ballots will be invalidated. The outcome of the geographical polls may be seriously affected as a result. The low awareness sits oddly with the intensive canvassing by the seven tickets running for the new seats. It shows that it takes more than candidates' canvassing to get the message across. The government cannot shirk its responsibility.
All voting methods remain unfamiliar until people get used to them. When the proportional representation system was introduced to replace the simple majority system in 1998, there were fears of confusion and unfairness. The super seats are an electoral novelty. But the way the winners will be returned is similar to the geographical polls. The main difference is that it will be a citywide ballot instead of five districts. The first televised election forum for the super seats yesterday was a good start. With more explanation, there is no reason why Hong Kong voters cannot adapt to it. Better publicity is needed.