The Government obviously wants the first election of the SAR legislature to be a huge success, but the public response to the voter registration drive suggests officials should not be optimistic. To enlist more voters for the May election, the Government has earmarked more than $60 million for the registration campaign. But by December 30, the registration rate, particularly among the functional constituency groups, was far from encouraging. More than one million eligible voters for the geographical elections have yet to sign up and the registration rates of some functional constituencies are as low as four per cent. For instance, of the 159 eligible voting bodies in the Agriculture and Fisheries constituency, only seven have registered. In the Labour constituency, only 36 of the 539 eligible voting bodies have signed up. Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing is frustrated, warning that if the situation does not improve before the registration deadline, compulsory registration may have to be considered. The concern expressed by Mr Justice Woo is understandable because if the potential voters remain indifferent, in some constituencies, a legislator can be returned by just a few dozen votes - a scenario which can hardly instil faith and confidence in the poll. But before the Government gets too excited about the idea of compulsory registration, it should find out what is causing the public's indifference. Is it because Hong Kong people have lost interest in the elections altogether? Or is it because officials have failed to deploy the right tactics in enlisting voters? Political parties anxious about the low registration rate tend to believe that the Government has not done enough to encourage functional electors to vote. Door-to-door visits were employed to entice geographical voters while those in functional groups only received letters. Practically, it is not surprising the Government has concentrated its efforts on the geographical polls. This is because they are open to all eligible voters and thus more people can relate to the registration efforts more readily. Officials may also believe that if the registration drive is successful, it will also create a better atmosphere in the run-up to the poll in May. The immediate problem they face is that the registration drive is not going well. Voter apathy is the key - people may be tired of having to go to the ballot box and may feel that electing their representatives will not affect how government policies are shaped. If this is indeed the problem, then no amount of money to promote voter registration will help. Nor will compulsory registration be the answer. With 10 days left before registration closes there will probably be a last-minute rush of people trying to beat the deadline. They are more likely to be from the functional sectors than geographical electors. But that does not mean the Government should concede failure. If, in the end, the registration rate is still unsatisfactory, there is still time for the Government to map out a better strategy to encourage more people to cast their vote on polling day. Hong Kong people may be disappointed in the present or previous legislature, but they should remember that exercising a vote is the only way to keep our Government in check. They should also remember that while Hong Kong is not so democratic as to allow the public to have a big say in local affairs, without their enthusiastic participation in this year's poll, the chance for the community to gain a greater say over government policies in future will only worsen.