Macau has seen the number of blank and invalid votes shoot up amid a record-low voter turnout during its seventh legislative election, after 21 liberal and pro-democracy candidates were disqualified in July. Election officials attributed the poor turnout to the Covid-19 epidemic and the weather.

macau 2021 legislative assembly september 12, 2021 polls
Photo: Macau Gov screenshot via YouTube.

Over 137,000 people — or 42 per cent of Macau’s registered voters — headed to the polls on Sunday to elect 14 lawmakers by universal suffrage for the casino town’s Legislative Assembly, a drop of almost 15 per cent compared to the election in 2017. However, less than half of the 33-seat chamber is directly elected by the public. Among the remaining seats, 12 were returned by indirect, small-circle elections in professional sectors, whilst seven lawmakers are appointed directly by the Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng. Macau has about 324,000 registered voters.

The number of blank votes recorded this year shot up from 922 to 3,141, or 2.29 per cent of all ballots, a proportion which tripled compared to the election four years ago. The proportion of invalid ballots also nearly doubled, according to figures published by the Macau Electoral Affairs Committee (CAEAL).

macau 2021 elections
Photo: Macau Gov.

An election official said the low turnout could be attributed to the Covid-19 epidemic and high temperatures on Sunday: “[We] preliminarily believe that this was due to anti-epidemic measures. It was not convenient for some many residents living in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Mainland to return to Macau [to vote] as they would be subject to quarantine,” said CAEAL chief Tong Hio-fung. “Also, today’s weather was quite hot and there were thunderstorms in the afternoon, these may have affected the desire to vote.”

The SAR last saw a Covid-19 infection six weeks ago. It has recorded a total of 63 cases since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Sunday saw temperatures of up to 34 Celsius.

14 winners

Election winners came from seven of the 14 tickets running in the elections this year, after 21 candidates on six of the tickets were disqualified because they had failed to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to Hong Kong’s sister SAR, Macau electoral officials said.

Disqualified lawmakers and contenders told HKFP that election authorities cited social media photographs with Hong Kong democrats, participation Tiananmen Massacre commemorative vigils and trips to Taiwan as reasons for their disqualification.

List of 14 victorious Macau Legislative Assembly election candidates in 2021
List of 14 victorious Macau Legislative Assembly election candidates in 2021. Photo: Macau Gov.

Candidate Si Ka-lon – on the Macau United Citizens Association ticket – topped the polls with 26,593 votes, securing a total of three seats for the pro-establishment political party dominated by members of the Fujian community in the city. The other two winners on this ticket were Song Pek-kei and Lei Leong-wong. The group nabbed about a fifth of all votes.

Coming second in the polls was Ella Lei of The Union for Development, with 23,760 votes. Leong Sun-iok was also a winning candidate on the union’s ticket.

macau 2021 legislative assembly september 12, 2021 polls
Photo: Macau Gov screenshot via YouTube.

The remaining winning contenders were José Pereira Coutinho, Zheng Anting, Leong Hong-sai, Wong kit-cheng, Che Sai-wang, Lam U-tou, Lo Choi-in, Ngan Iek-hang, and Ma Io-fong.

‘Absurd comedy’

One of the disqualified pro-democracy candidates, Scott Chiang, compared the election official’s comments to telepathy: “The post-[disqualification] election is full of absurd comedy, such as when the Electoral Affairs Committee insisted that the record-low turnout was due to the epidemic and not other reasons – as if they could mindread,” he wrote in a post to Facebook on Sunday.

“Nevertheless, a legislature produced from an unfair election may have some remaining value. The Legislative Assembly will still play a roll in politics as long as Macau hasn’t come under the governance of the Revolutionary Committee or a military state,” he said, referring to a governing body during China’s Cultural Revolution. “Whether the cup is half empty or half full, everyone is free to choose.”

The winners are expected to take their seats for Macau’s seventh legislative session in October. Each session lasts four years.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.