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Do the maths: With 90 per cent not voting, University of Hong Kong 'referendum' ignores silent majority

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 6:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2015, 6:14am

Students and staff at the University of Hong Kong have every right to agitate for political agendas they believe in. But if they want to convince the tax-paying public - who ultimately pay for much of their schooling and jobs - of their righteousness, they may have to be a bit less disingenuous.

READ MORE: Put it to a vote: HKU staff, teachers and students demand explanation why Johannes Chan was rejected for managerial post

I am referring to a "referendum" they held on campus last week over five days. Whoever once talked about "lies, damned lies and statistics" forgot to mention surveys and voting results. Staff, students and teachers were asked to vote on three questions:

  • 97 per cent of those who voted "deplore the decision of the University Council which rejected the recommendation of the Search Committee for the appointment of [Johannes Chan Man-mun as] the Pro-Vice-Chancellor without providing valid justifications".
  • 90 per cent "have no confidence in Dr Leong Che-hung the Chairman and those 12 members of the University Council who voted against the recommendation of the Search Committee"
  • 95 per cent think "[former education minister] Arthur Li [Kwok-cheung] is not suitable to be the chairman of the HKU Council".

The votes were organised by HKU's Academic Staff Association and a newly formed Alumni Concern Group and HKU's students union. And they are claiming victory. HKU's Public Opinion Programmes, run by closet pan-democrat Robert Chung Ting-yiu, provided technical support.

They certainly got the results they wanted, as 90-plus per cent on each question looks pretty convincing. But the voter turnout was truly dismal. Those who voted included 1,707 undergraduates, 271 post-graduates, 148 teachers and 334 other staff members.

That looks like roughly only 10 per cent in each category of stakeholders actually bothered to vote. Bear in mind organisers spent five days collecting votes across campus and that's all the voters they managed to attract. Here's another 90 per cent the organisers could be looking at: a silent majority who didn't vote for whatever reasons.

It's clear that those who took part in the votes are a self-selecting group predisposed to a specific position on the issues at hand. The 90-plus per cent of voters here form a vocal minority. But their votes are hardly representative.