The record turnout in Sunday’s district council elections included Hongkongers living overseas who returned to vote, as well as immigrants casting their ballots for the first time.
At polling stations across Hong Kong, some voters said they had come back from as far as Britain to do their part in selecting 452 representatives for the city’s 18 district councils.
Peter Chan Ka-hung, a 28-year-old epidemiologist living in the English city of Oxford came back to vote in Wong Tai Sin district.
He said the ongoing protests “revealed some long-standing structural problems of the current government and society” and wanted to do his part for the city by voting.
“Although this election won’t solve many of these problems, I believe it will be a good start to improve the situation bit by bit, and to build a momentum for future social movements,” Chan said.
Three others said they came back from Singapore.
Warren Chau, 31, who has been working there in IT for six years, said he booked his tickets home three months ago.
“In Singapore, we cannot discuss politics openly, so my friends and I have suppressed our feelings over the situation in Hong Kong for the past few months,” Chau said.
He said he was particularly frustrated by the lack of response from the government over the protesters’ key demands.
“The election is a legitimate way to express our voices and tell the government what we want and who we support,” he said.
Sonia Lau, 32, who works in a Singapore university, said she had never voted before, but felt compelled to do so this year after watching the protests unfold.
“I’ve felt quite disappointed and shocked, watching the situation in Hong Kong since June,” she said. Unhappy with police handling of the protests, she asked why so much tear gas was fired.
“I used to feel my vote was useless, and one vote did not make much of a difference. Now I feel we need to do whatever we can to make a change,” Lau said.
Another voter who returned from Singapore, and asked to be identified only as Li, said she felt sad and angry watching the situation in Hong Kong deteriorate.
“I feel the government has basically disrespected the demands of the people, resulting in multiple injuries at protests. I wanted to show my dissatisfaction,” said Li, in her 20s, who has been living in Singapore for two years working in the IT sector.
Fung Ka-keung, human resources director of an international NGO in Seoul, forked out HK$2,600 for his flight home.
“When I bought my air ticket on Monday, I was not so confident that the election would be held on Sunday as scheduled, but I decided to go ahead no matter what,” said Fung, who voted in the Kennedy & Mount Davis ward of the Central and Western district.
“It’s the first time I have ever flown back to Hong Kong to vote in an election,” he said.
In deciding whom to vote for, he looked mainly at the candidate’s position on the government’s handling of the unrest, now in its sixth month.
Among immigrants voting for the first time was a 30-year-old art industry worker, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Chen.
Voting in the Belcher constituency of Central and Western District, she moved to Hong Kong from mainland China with her family in 2002.
Referring to the aftermath of the 2014 protests which shut down parts of Hong Kong for 79 days, she said: “The city’s legal system has been under threat after the Occupy Central protests, as we’ve seen Legislative Council candidates being disqualified one after another.
“As Hong Kong people still have faith in the electoral process, I want to make my contribution by using my vote to kick the pro-establishment camp out of the district council.”
But a 50-year-old entrepreneur from France, identifying himself as Jacques, decried the ongoing protests.
Voting in Central and Western District, he said: “I hate violence. This movement is not about democracy, it’s about separation from China. I think it’s dishonest to say you want democracy and then beat people up. Not enough people are denouncing violence.”
As of 8.30pm on Sunday, nearly 2.7 million people, or 66.5 per cent of all registered voters, have cast their votes. The turnout has been the biggest in Hong Kong’s history, for any kind of election. The previous record was 2.2 million people voting in the 2016 Legislative Council elections.
He Wen, a Hong Kong affairs expert at the Shanghai Institute for East-Asia Studies, said he was not surprised to see people returning from overseas to vote, given that there were contests for all district council seats this year.
He said: “I expect the pro-establishment camp to lose some seats. But the question is, how many seats will they lose?”
City University political scientist James Sung Lap-kung said while the number of voters returning from overseas might not be large, they were showing solidarity with the protesters.
“I guess these Hongkongers are returning to vote mostly in support of the protesters,” Sung said. “It can be seen as a boost and support for the younger generation.”