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"Although she's not on the ballot, the election turnout is a de-facto referendum on her popularity"
Chief Executive Carrie Lam is no doubt sighing with some relief. She will take comfort that the 2021 LegCo election turnout is not catastrophically low at 30%. It is embarrassing, but after all, the results could be much worse.
Although she's not on the ballot, the election turnout is a de-facto referendum on her popularity and the government's standing. That plays into her re-election chances because she needs Beijing's endorsement.
Other factors are Covid, the lingering memory of the unrest of 2019, and an unprecedented attempt at a boycott.
The polls attracted international attention with electoral reforms that removed those seeking independence or overthrowing Beijing. In the weeks leading up to the election, a concerted effort by disaffected elements encouraged a boycott. That has failed; all they've done is give the other side a win.
Nonetheless, Carrie Lam sounded rattled when she made this statement last week, "I think the turnout rate does not mean anything." Really?
Why on earth say such a thing when you've spent millions on advertising campaigns, providing free public transport and making an all-out effort to encourage the electorate to turn out? Even Beijing got in on the act by asking people to vote.
Lam's statement is ridiculous, revealing a lack of PR savvy that has marred her term as Chief Executive. Also, the fact is, a fair proportion of the public, on both sides of the political divide, view her as politically inept. Such statements affirm that view because turnout means a lot in terms of legitimacy. Any leader who denies that is kidding no one except themselves.
Anyway, the turnout rate is an adequate 30%. LegCo elections usually attract between 40% and 45% of the electorate. And yes, this is much lower than attained in the recent District Council election, which hit 71%.
It's worth noting that the first LegCo election under the British in 1991 achieved a 39% turnout, although that dropped to 37% in 1995.
No doubt the critics will make much of such comparisons. But times have changed. The populist radicals aren't on the ballot, which means younger voters may not engage. Meanwhile, local correspondent Nury Vittachi argues this is the cleanest election we've had in decades. He has a point.
Even so, the political climate, lacklustre campaigns and an air of indifference dampened enthusiasm. As a result of the events of 2019, some have concluded that too much politics leads to disorder.
Alas, the offer of free public transport back-fired. Designed to encourage the people to come out, it worked. Except they headed for the hills while Ocean Park and Disney reported a brisk trade.
Of course, the media in the West can't help themselves. The Guardian led with a headline, 'Police Deployed at Polling Stations as Hong Kong Votes.' So, yes, we had police officers outside the polling station following the UK practice.
What can we conclude from this election? First, Hong Kong remains a society with deep divisions. Second, Lam may have dodged a bullet because the turnout didn't fall through the floor. Third, Lam's chances of a second term remain in play.
Today, she is heading up to Beijing for her annual visit, aka 'staff appraisal'. Everyone is watching for hints of her fate.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.