26 March 2019
Academic Albert Chen's suggestion in relation to the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election hasn't found favor with either of the political camps in Hong Kong. Photo:
Academic Albert Chen's suggestion in relation to the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election hasn't found favor with either of the political camps in Hong Kong. Photo:

Why the ‘Blank Vote’ proposal is no life-saving straw

Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a seasoned and well-respected law academic in the establishment and a member of the Basic Law Committee, put forward an alternative proposal — dubbed by some as the “Back Gate Keeping” option – on the 2017 electoral system shortly before the government announced the commencement of the second stage of the political reform consultation.

In fact his proposal seems to be regarded by officials in charge of the consultation as a “life-saving straw” amid widespread pessimism and impasse over the prospects of the political reform. Some officials even praised Chen for his “good heart”, and claimed that they will arrange a meeting with Chen very soon to follow up his suggestion, a stark contrast to the lukewarm response from among the pro-government and pan-democratic camps.

The government’s fervent response is indeed not surprising, as Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen already conceded that the government is desperate and has simply no more bargaining chips to twist the pan-democrats’ arm. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor even made it explicit that support of the pan-democrats is decisive in determining whether Chen’s “blank vote” proposal can materialize. Without their support, everything else would be in vain.

Judging from recent developments, Chen’s proposal has proven unpopular even among the pro-government camp, which believes there is no way Beijing will accept it, let alone within the pan-democratic circle. Some pan-democratic sources said Chen’s suggestion that the election will be declared invalid if more than half of the voters cast blank votes is almost unrealistic, because Hong Kong people simply don’t welcome the idea of casting blank votes to express their political discontent. They said his proposal will be much more feasible if the threshold of the number of blank votes can be reduced to 10 to 20 percent.

Let’s refer back to the results of the 2012 Legco election, during which there were a total of 27,738 invalid votes in the geographical constituencies, constituting only 1.51 percent of the total 1,840,000 votes that were cast. As far as the so called “Super District Council” constituency is concerned, there were 80,921 invalid votes, which made up 4.84 percent of the total 1,670,000 votes cast, thanks to the mobilization of the radical pan-democrats. But of course, the CE election and the Legco election are completely different by nature and we can’t make simple comparison between the two.

Some in the political sector pointed out that the underlying reason for the pan-democrats’ reluctance to accept the “blank vote” proposal is that once they agree to such “veto” option as an alternative to their demand for withdrawing the NPC’s stringent reform framework over the nomination process, it might mean they may never have the opportunity to run for CE at least for a very long time, if not forever.

As far as Beijing is concerned, it doesn’t accept Chen’s “blank vote” proposal simply because once the election in 2017 is declared invalid due to a majority blank vote, it might create a bad impression to the entire world that the election is indeed anything but genuine, causing a big embarrassment to Beijing.

Sources in the political sector explained that Beijing agreed to the so-called “Super District Council” proposal back in 2010 simply because the Central Authorities were confident that the results were predictable: the pro-government camp would either win 2 or 3 seats out of 5. In comparison, however, the potential risk with regard to the “blank vote” proposal this time is simply beyond prediction.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 9.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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