Macau's election commission yesterday declared void nearly one in 20 of the ballots cast in Sunday's legislative election, and delayed its declaration of the results.
An academic said the volume of void ballots - 6,539, or 4.4 per cent of the 148,977 votes cast - meant vote-rigging, while unlikely, could not be ruled out. However, it was also likely some of the spoiled ballots were the result of elderly voters misusing the stamps electors were required to use to mark their ballot papers. It was the first time stamps had been used.
A final accounting committee consisting of a commissioner and two prosecutors is reviewing the void ballots. By last night it had checked 2,567 of them and ruled 2,220 of them valid.
The ballot paper features 16 rows, each representing a candidate or slate of candidates, and there is a square to the left of each row. An elector had to stamp a tick inside the square next to the candidate or slate he or she supported.
Some electors mistakenly stamped ticks in the middle or to the right of a row where a team's number, icon and name are shown, while others stamped more than one tick on their chosen row.
The final accounting committee said it had decided to relax the rules for determining whether or not a ballot is valid. It said a ballot would be regarded as valid as long as it showed the elector's clear inclination to choose a particular candidate or slate of candidates.
The volume of void ballots is such that the review could change the preliminary results. Melinda Chan Mei-yi, the wife of businessman David Chow Kam-fai and director of a charity group, was hanging on to twelfth place with 7,855 votes. Wong Seng-hong - a running mate of Angela Leong On-kei, fourth wife of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun - was 806 votes behind Melinda Chan, and Chan Hong, of the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations, 834 votes behind Melinda Chan.
Leong Heng-teng, the neighbourhood union's director, said his organisation attached great importance to the review, which is being conducted by a task force of the Electoral Affairs Commission. Political commentator Professor Larry So Man-yum, of the Macau Polytechnic Institute said that was because of the group's reliance on elderly voters - the ones seen as prone to misusing the ballot stamps.
Preliminary results showed Kwan Tsui-hang, of the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions, with the most votes, followed by Fujian community leader Chan Meng-kam and Antonio Ng Kuok-cheong, a democrat who got the most votes at the last election in 2005. Angela Leong was fourth.
Democrats looked set to take three seats, one more than they won four years ago.
The professor said the democrats had benefited from the growing support among the public for better oversight of the government. 'Calls for democracy are growing and those unhappy with the government are speaking with their ballots,' he said.
Some voters on Sunday spoke of their concern about corruption in Macau, citing the case of Ao Man-long, the former secretary for transport and public works who was last year jailed for more than 28 years for bribe-taking and money laundering.
The professor said some of the ballots may have been declared void because elderly voters had misused ballot stamps. 'Some people might have left the mark on a line between two choices,' So said.
But he said vote-rigging may have had something to do with the fact there was an unusually large number of void ballots. (Only 0.57 per cent of the 1.52 million votes cast in geographical constituencies in Hong Kong's legislative election last year were void. In the 2005 Macau poll, void ballots accounted for 2.5 per cent of total votes cast.)
'We can't rule out the possibility that some people who had been pressured or bribed to support certain candidates ended up casting blank ballots,' he said. 'It's unlikely, but not impossible.'