Empty ballots speak loudly
The ballot to return lawmakers to the Legislative Council is usually not headline material after three months. But a regular report summing up the September polls has revealed some disturbing figures. According to the Electoral Affairs Commission, the number of unmarked ballot papers in the geographical polls and the first "super seat" election was exceptionally high. This warrants serious attention from government officials and legislators.
Arguably, a few thousands blank votes in a citywide ballot covering some three million voters is nothing unusual. However, there is every reason to be concerned if it becomes a growing trend. The number in geographical seats has jumped from 4,943 in 2004 to 10,063 in 2008, and it hit a record high at 18,399 this year. The response to the five newly created functional constituency seats for district councillors was even more worrying. Of the 1.67 million who exercised their second vote for a super seat, 60,111 people left their ballots blank.
People vote for change if they are not happy with the status quo. Otherwise, they continue to vote for the ones they support. But something is clearly amiss when voters deliberately leave the ballot paper empty. Perhaps they saw none of the candidates as worthy of their support, or were dissatisfied with the electoral system. In any case, it was a protest vote. The consolation is that they still come forward because they think voting is a civic duty.
The super seats were the centrepiece of electoral reforms passed in 2010 with the support of the Democratic Party. The party's support for the reforms caused a split in the pan-democratic camp between moderate and radical factions. The blank votes cast in the super-seat election were no doubt partly a response to an appeal by radical groups to boycott the vote.
The outcome speaks volumes about voter dissatisfaction with the system, and perhaps the performance of our lawmakers. The next Legco ballot is just four years away. A lot of soul searching will be needed as we prepare for more reforms.