Record number of blank votes, poor turnout blamed on virus

Blank votes cast in Macau’s Legislative Assembly elections were a record high at more than 3,100 – over three times more than the previous polls in 2017.

Macau’s Electoral Affairs Commission yesterday said voters cast 3,141 blank ballots compared to the 944 in 2017. There were also 2,082 invalid ballots.

The voting rate of 42.38 percent was the lowest since the Macau handover in 1999 – down nearly 15 percent from 2017 – and the first time it failed to reach 50 percent.

EAC chairman Tong Hio-fong blamed border closures amid the pandemic and the weather for the low turnout.

“Of course some of the voters might have [wanted to vote for other people], but it is the EAC’s understanding that the rate was mainly affected by the pandemic. Other factors are not the main reason,” Tong said.

Eilo Yu Wing-yat, a government and public administration associate professor at University of Macau, said the blank or invalid votes show the discontent of voters toward the disqualification of 21 opposition candidates earlier, as well as a divided society.

This is a message, but I cannot say whether the divided society will cause an instability or whether it is reaching a boiling point,” Yu said.

“We should focus on future actions of people that are not represented in the political system. While society and economy are on a downward slope, what will those people do? That is the question we should be focusing on.”

Yu said centrist Agnes Lam Iok-fong, who failed to be reelected, shows that being a centrist in a divided society has put them in a difficult position.

“So new legislator Ron Lam U-tou, also a centrist, will have a hard time in the next four years,” Yu said. Lam, however, said he is not a centrist.

On the number of blank and invalid votes increasing, Lam believes it is a sign that people doubt whether the legislature can still monitor the government.

The elections were held following the EAC’s disqualification of 21 opposition candidates on July 9 after it “proved they did not uphold Macau’s Basic Law and were not loyal to Macau.”

The elections also saw Macau’s pro-democracy camp lose further ground in the legislature. Of the 33 seats, 14 are directly elected and a preliminary count yesterday showed the camp won just two – half of what it got in 2017.

The candidate who garnered the most votes, with 26,593, was reelectionist Si Ka-lon from pro-establishment party Alianca de Povo de Instituicao de Macau.

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