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Published: 23:43, January 12, 2022 | Updated: 10:04, January 13, 2022
Western media's condemning of city's LegCo election turnout rate backfires
By Joephy Chan
Published:23:43, January 12, 2022 Updated:10:04, January 13, 2022 By Joephy Chan

Western media outlets have been quick to pick up on the turnout rate of 30.2 percent for the Legislative Council election, held on Dec 19, and splash it all over their headlines, seeing the low turnout as an Achilles’-heel-like target to attack in their latest offensive against Hong Kong’s revamped election system, which has been their bete noire ever since it was initiated in March last year. But the new smear campaign has turned out to be just another clumsy maneuver to discredit China for ideological or geopolitical reasons.

First of all, the turnout rate is not the only measure of the success of an election, let alone the legitimacy of a vote. Chinese have always hit the nail on the head when they say “quality outweighs quantity”. The quantity of votes is important, but the quality of the election is more crucial to the success of a system. The Western media, like all bullies, sought safety in numbers. But their obsession with the “low voting rate” of the Dec 19 LegCo election doesn’t tally with the fact that they saw no problem with the much-lower turnout rate of the New York City mayoral election held on Nov 2, at merely 24 percent!

Those China-bashers conveniently overlooked the turnout in the New York election while taking issue with an election in Hong Kong with a turnout rate of 6 percentage points higher. Moreover, what concerns the majority of Hong Kong residents more is whether the newly elected legislature can function responsibly in helping to heal the city seriously wounded by confrontational politics of recent years, rather than the number of votes cast, much less the inclusion of some grandstanding political agitators. Whether the elected members can contribute to Hong Kong’s drive for regaining good governance obviously deserves more attention of the Western media if they genuinely care about Hong Kong people’s well-being, as it has become the first and foremost issue that gets on the nerves of the public.

Turnout rate is not the only measure of the success of an election, let alone the legitimacy of a vote. Chinese have always hit the nail on the head when they say “quality outweighs quantity”

As Abraham Lincoln famously put it, democracy is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. The media in the United States, such as The Wall Street Journal, seems to ignore the landmark speech of the 16th president of their country, which resembles the spirit of the US. Should they bear statesman Lincoln’s thoughts in mind, the American media would have appreciated Hong Kong’s newly elected LegCo more than ever. While the turnout rate for the 2019 District Council election was unusually high, were the elected members striving for the best for their constituencies, or serving sufficiently the citizens who had voted for them? 

Many district councilors failed to discharge their duties and even acted beyond their authority by politicizing every single community issue. What was worse, many of the elected District Council members resigned before the end of their terms. Surely this was not “for the people”. The terrible performance of the current District Councils and the huge harm those wayward legislature councilors have done to Hong Kong society over recent years reminded us of the need for improving our electoral system to ensure the quality of election. 

Even if we center our argument on the quantity of votes, our new electoral system still fares better than some of those in the West. In November, New York set a record for a low turnout of 24 percent in its municipal elections. While Western media hyped up the low turnout rate of Hong Kong’s LegCo election, hurling libelous labels such as “fake election” at it, they took no issue with the much-lower turnout rate of New York’s mayoral elections.

More ironically, a local US medium, Intelligencer, published an article titled “Why Low Voter Turnout Isn’t the Problem Everybody Says It Is” as a comment on New York’s local election. It even goes so far as to justify New York’s low turnout rate by using economic theory; namely, the Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80-20 Rule, which states that 80 percent of the consequences come from 20 percent of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between outputs and inputs. The article says, “It’s possible that only 20 percent of New York voters are paying attention, educating themselves and taking time to vote on matters of importance. If the majority are too busy, distracted, or apathetic to cast a ballot, so be it.”

The Western media’s obsession with the turnout rate of the LegCo election and playing up the so-called legitimacy question have backfired, with their sheer hypocrisy and double standards increasingly being exposed by more and more commentators and readers.

The author is a member of the Legislative Council and the UN Association of China.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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