The dangerous game of Dec 10 turnout-boosting

By Chris Yeung —

With the city’s pan-democrats being eliminated from the upcoming District Council election, the Government could already proclaim an early – and the big – winner. Whoever wins the ballots on the December 10 polls makes little, if any, difference to the fact that the to-be-constituted 18 district councils are what the Government wants. Job done. All patriots.

From a historical perspective, the election will seal the success of dismantling the British-engineered district administration and the installation of a mainland-style governance system.

Gone are not just one of the British colonial legacies, but more importantly, the pro-democracy force, at least in the foreseeable future.

The Government appears not to be content with the easy win. They want to have a sweeping victory with a good turnout. Then came the biggest-ever election publicity campaign to call on voters to cast their vote.

But by mounting the political-cum-publicity campaign, the John Lee administration could also emerge as the biggest loser in the watershed election.

Barring a dramatic change of mind of the pro-democracy voters, a dismal low turnout of the December 10 election looks likely. It is just a question of how low it is.

A lukewarm response will contrast oddly with the unprecedented all-out efforts by the Government to promote the election. It could be interpreted as a vote of defiance by those who are not happy with the new election system and/or the Government.

It could not be more ironic and mind-boggling that the Government has emerged as the key player in the upcoming district council, the first being held in accordance with the new district administration framework.

There is no denying the scramble for seats among the officially-endorsed “patriots” in a lot of constituencies has been fierce. The government publicity stole their limelight.

Led by Lee, the entire senior and top echelons of the government have been pulling all stops since last week or so to ask colleagues in the bureaucracy, their families and friends to cast their votes on Sunday. Posts calling on people to vote by officials, public figures from all walks of life, swamped social media.

Flags, banners, broadcasts with the “please-vote” message have flooded the city as if December 10 is a make-or-break day for Hong Kong.

One day before the voting day, next Saturday has normally been the biggest vote-canvassing day for the candidates, which will feature campaign teams of candidates making last-minute canvassing for votes in streets.

While massive vote-canvassing activities by candidates will no doubt still be underway, the coming Saturday will see the Government’s publicity campaign reaching its climax.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee said the city would hold an “Election Fun Day” on Saturday, which includes outdoor concerts, drone shows and fun fairs. The public could also enjoy free usage of a list of government facilities.

Lee said they hope to enhance the public’s sense of engagement and the attention attached to the polls so that the public would vote on December 10.

Given the biggest-ever and overwhelming publicity on the election day, it is almost impossible for ordinary citizens to spare the election information.

With the results of the election secured after members from the pan-democratic camp were eliminated at the end of the nomination period, the Government’s game plan has shifted to the battle for a good turnout.

The more officials played down the significance of high turnout, the more indeed they are concerned about the ramifications of a lukewarm, or worse, a low turnout.

Hailed as an important step to “improve district administration,” a dismal turnout will become a vote of dissent, or some may call it “soft resistance.”

The more officials have done to boost turnout, the higher the risk of a huge embarrassment if the turnout on Sunday fails to impress.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the John Lee team has seriously assessed the merits and demerits of an all-out political campaign to boost turnout rate. It is a case of “too simple, sometimes naive” if the rationale is a simple case of “more is better.”

The all-penetrating campaign has and will further raise expectation of turnout, thus posing to heighten the risk of a wide gap between expectation and reality after the ballots are counted.

It is unclear whether it is a big gamble that the Lee team really wants to take or a bet that has been made without serious prior consideration.

Unlike many other elections, the results of the contest for 88 seats up for grabs are far less interesting and important than the number of people who come out to vote amidst the overwhelming government publicity.

This article was first published on Green Bean Facebook

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