SCMP Monday, September 11, 2000


Apathay 'due to lawmakers' lack of power'


Voters shunned the polls because they felt the legislature was powerless, according to academics.
They were also discouraged, the academics said, by the scandal surrounding DAB candidate Gary Cheng Kai-nam.
Total turnout was 43.57 per cent of those registered - 1,331,080 voters - cast their ballots. The figure was about 10 percentage points lower than in the 1998 election.
Lau Siu-kai of the Chinese University attributed the low turnout to awareness among voters of the limited power of the legislature.
"Voters started to realise that the post-handover legislature had far less power than the pre-handover one, including restrictions on the tabling of private members' bills and the split-voting arrangement," said Professor Lau.
"They gradually found out that lawmakers seldom had any influence on major government policy, particularly when Tung Chee-hwa was seen to be attempting to sideline the legislature in the past few years," he said.
However, he said he believed the low turnout was a temporary phenomenon.
The increase in the number of directly elected seats would revive voters' interest as they would think legislators more capable of forcing the administration to make concessions, he said.
Li Pang-kwong of Lingnan University said the Government should initiate public debate on the timetable for directly electing the whole legislature and the Chief Executive. He said the Government should not use the low turnout as an excuse to slow down democratic development.
"I don't believe voters would still be apathetic if they knew when they could choose their own political leader and the entire legislature," Dr Li said.
He said the outcome of some seats under the proportional representation system was expected.
"Voters think the result is very much pre-determined. They don't think their votes carry weight and therefore have less incentive to vote," he said.
He said the turnout on Hong Kong Island of just over 42 per cent, much lower than the 1998 figure of 52 per cent, showed that the Gary Cheng scandal had put voters off.
"Probably voters on Hong Kong Island chose not to vote because they did not want to vote for the DAB and could not find anyone else to vote for," Dr Li said.
Sung Lap-kung of City University said the lower turnout showed voters were disappointed with the Government and the DAB election scandal.