International

Low turnout for Hong Kong ‘patriots’ polls

Voters at a polling station during the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong on Sunday.

Voters at a polling station during the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong on Sunday.

Low turnout and indifference among registered voters marked Hong Kong’s first elections since Beijing’s radical overhaul of the Special Administrative Region’s electoral system.

Polling booths in the SAR on Sunday saw trickles of voters coming in through the day, but none of the long lines and intense campaigning that were a trademark of past elections in Hong Kong. As of Sunday evening, the turnout was down by more than 40% from the last election in 2016.

Sunday’s polls to elect Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) for the next four years were the first since Beijing passed legislation in March that gives it greater control. LegCo was expanded from 70 to 90 members, while the number of those directly elected was reduced from 35 to 20, thus giving voters less of a direct say in Hong Kong’s governance. Of the remaining 70, 40 are chosen by a new 1,200 member Election Committee while 30 are from what are called functional constituencies representing a range of industry, trade and other broadly pro-establishment interest groups.

The other major change was the setting up of a candidate eligibility review committee to screen those running for office, part of Beijing’s move to ensure only “patriots” could govern Hong Kong.

 

The changes, including the passing of new national security legislation last year, all but decimated Hong Kong’s once-vibrant pro-democracy camp, most of whose members were either arrested for their role in the 2019 protests, unable to contest, moved overseas, or simply gave up political life.

‘No real choice’

As of 8.30 p.m. on Sunday, two hours before polls closed, the turnout was 27.92%, on track to record the lowest figure since Hong Kong’s handover in 1997. According to government figures, 1.24 million people had cast their vote, down by 44% from what was seen at the same stage of polling in the last LegCo election in 2016.

While a breakdown of voters by age wasn’t immediately available, the wide sense was that many young voters had stayed away. Mostly middle-aged and elderly voters were seen in two polling stations visited by The Hindu on Sunday. On the promenade abutting the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Park, one of the polling stations, two young registered voters said they would not vote because the polls were “fake” and there was “no real choice” among the candidates. Local newspapers quoted others who said they voted out of a sense of “civic duty” even if they were uninspired by the choices, which led to the turnout somewhat exceeding the worst expectations.

The lack of enthusiasm was a sharp contrast from the district elections held in late 2019, in the immediate aftermath of the youth-driven protests calling for full democracy. The months-long protest movement brought millions to the streets and frequently descended into violence between protesters and the police.

While Beijing blamed foreign forces for orchestrating the unrest, the pro-democracy opposition swept the district polls in late 2019 that were seen as a referendum on the protest movement.

In a bid to boost turnout this year, authorities took the unprecedented step of making all public transport free on Sunday, although the move seemed to have backfired with packed trains and buses leading to crowds gathering at some of Hong Kong’s most popular public attractions, but not at the polling stations.


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 20, 2022 4:45:56 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/low-turnout-for-hong-kong-patriots-polls/article37992591.ece