EIGHTY-ONE candidates for next month's District Board elections seem set to be returned unopposed. With nominations due to close tomorrow, 23 per cent of the 346 seats up for grabs on September 18 remain uncontested. Apathy is at its worst in Tsuen Wan where there are no candidates for the two seats. But while candidates may be in short supply, complaints about how they are conducting their campaigns have soared. Since nominations began a fortnight ago, 227 protests have been made to government election officers. When the Government launched an $8.5 million campaign to promote the poll, the first since the Legislative Council endorsed Governor Chris Patten's pro-democracy reforms, officials estimated almost 1,000 candidates would come forward - or about three per seat. But by Friday, just 695 had submitted nomination papers, leaving barely two candidates in each constituency. The competition will be hottest in Tsim Sha Tsui East, where five hopefuls are battling for support. And even though China says it will dismantle the three tiers of government instituted by the Governor's reforms, at least 53 District Affairs advisers appointed by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) had registered. While 211 members are seeking re-election, only 22 are appointed members. Academics, predicting the election will be low-key, have criticised the Government for failing to make clear to people the power of their vote. Under the Patten reforms, 10 Legislative Councillors will be selected by an election committee to be formed by District Board members. ''District Board members will have a mandate to elect legislators next year, but the promotion campaign has not yet mentioned this,'' said Dr Kam Ping-kwong, a lecturer at City Polytechnic. Dr Kam also pointed out that the emergence of party politics in the territory seemed to have done nothing to increase nominations. The Democratic Party had nominated 123 candidates, at a 35.5 per cent participation rate, which was only slightly up on the 1991 election. The United Democrats and Meeting Point together nominated 84 candidates to contest 274 seats in 1991, or 30.7 per cent participation rate. This time they are putting up 130 candidates with a participation rate of 37.6 per cent. However, the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong is more enthusiastic this year, with 82 nominations, or a 23.7 per cent participation rate, compared to 16 nominations or 6.5 per cent in 1991. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Government's registration and electoral office described the number of protests received from the public and politicians as enormous. Few details have been released, but 181 deal with election advertisements. The spokesman was unaware of any allegations of violence or corruption. An election expert, Dr Stephen Tang Lung-wai from Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he was not surprised by the number of protests and that it was a sign that the democratic process was healthy and working efficiently.