Hong Kong sees crash in turnout for first ‘improved’ election since pro-Beijing rules change

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Only about 30 per cent of voters turned up for the first legislative council election in Hong Kong since Beijing amended the laws earlier this year to give China more control over who is elected.

Officials said that about 30.2 per cent of voters cast their ballot on Sunday in Hong Kong’s legislative council elections even as pro-China candidates claimed victory. This was the lowest ever voter turnout recorded in Hong Kong.

The LegCo — the city’s mini parliament — approves budgets and taxes for the city and has power over the appointment of judges in courts and, most importantly, can also impeach Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Out of the 90 legislative seats, only 20 were elected by the public on Sunday. Forty were picked by the Election Commission, which is also pro-Beijing, and 30 were selected by special groups of businesses and trade groups.

In a major overhaul of the city’s political system by Beijing earlier this year, officials approved a controversial “patriots” resolution that has dramatically cut the representation of pro-democratic groups. It meant that all candidates were effectively vetted by Beijing as “patriots” loyal to China’s ruling Communist Party.

China had claimed that the new rules were necessary for the “stability” of Hong Kong after massive pro-democracy protests rocked the city in 2019 but critics say the move has significantly watered down democracy in the region.

Lo Kin-hei, the chair of the biggest opposition party in Hong Kong, had said that it was “impossible” for the party to “pave a way” for candidates after the new rules introduced by China.

About 4.4 million voters were eligible to vote on Sunday. Barnabas Fung, the chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, announced that 1,350,680 people — or about 30.2 per cent — of registered voters, had cast ballots. In 2012 and 2016, the voter turnout was more than 50 per cent.

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, issued a statement that the polls were conducted in “an open, fair and honest manner” and the overall process was “generally smooth” as the “improved” electoral system worked as intended.

Ms Lam is expected to travel to China on Monday to report on the outcome of the election.

She had earlier urged the people of Hong Kong to vote for the “peace and stability” of the region. She said: “I can assure you that all our colleagues will fulfil their duties to ensure a smooth election. I hope this will be a fair, open, impartial and clean vote, and also efficient and people-friendly.”

In a bid to increase turnout, authorities had offered free transportation to voters in an unprecedented move.

But many voters said that they faced a dearth of choice in the elections.

“Although there is a chance to vote for pro-establishment and democracy candidates, there are few democratic choices, so Hong Kong people do not feel enthusiastic when it comes to voting,” voter Warton Leung told the Associated Press.

But Yu Wai-kwan, another Hongkonger, said that the elections provided a chance to vote for a better city. “I am voting to choose a new bunch of people to make Hong Kong a better place. I am a patriot, and I just hope for peace and quiet, and to have a good livelihood,” he said.

Before the election, Hongkongers had accused the Chinese government of attempting to stifle democracy by introducing a slew of laws to undermine democratic rule in the city.

Last year, China introduced a national security law to make it easier to punish pro-democracy protesters and reduce the city’s autonomy. It was brought following massive pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019. Since then several pro-democracy figures have been jailed, convicted or have been forced to go into exile.

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