HONG KONG – Residents of Hong Kong go to the polls on Sunday (December 19) to choose who they want to send to the legislature under the “patriots only” system.
With the pro-establishment camp dominating the Legislative Council (Legco) race, the main pan-Democratic parties sitting on it, and only a dozen candidates calling themselves non-pro-establishment, observers expect no surprises.
A total of 153 candidates will run for 90 Legco seats in Parliament’s seventh term, which begins on January 1 next year.
The overhaul of the electoral system adopted by the Hong Kong government in May meant that any candidate for municipal elections had to be cleared by a dedicated and certified selection committee before they could stand.
After voting at a polling station in Central, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters on Sunday that no voter turnout targets had been set, but she called for the elections to be fair, open, competitive, honest and efficient. .
“I have no particular expectations and I would say that the government has not set any turnout target, neither for this election, nor for the previous elections, because there is a combination of factors that will affect the turnout rate. participation in any election, ”she said.
“In the 2019 district council elections, we were in a situation where people were very afraid of things happening in society. There were still a lot of riots, Molotov cocktails and intimidation and illegal activity, and it is not the environment that will produce what we call, or what we consider, democracy, it is not. is people’s best interests, ”added Ms. Lam.
She vowed to work with the new members of Legco and listen to what they have to say so that policies reflect what people want and build a better future for Hong Kong.
Across the polling station, three members of the League of Social Democrats waved banners and protested as Ms Lam voted and addressed the media.
The trio chanted slogans like “I want universal suffrage” and “Give me back my voting rights”, in addition to shouting “Shame on you, Carrie Lam”.
Some voters were seen lining up outside polling stations ahead of the scheduled 8:30 am opening to beat the crowds.
Among the early risers was Mr. Wan, 67, who declined to give his full name, who was at a central polling station to vote before heading to work at a construction site.
“The atmosphere is very tense this time around and there are a lot more officers than in the previous elections,” he said, adding that he hoped the new lawmakers would solve the problems of traffic, housing and economic development.
Another voter who wanted to be identified as Mr Lee, 75, said the process was much smoother this time around than in previous years. “Last time around you still had to match your details, but now things are computerized, so it’s a lot smoother.”
Asked about his expectations of the new Legco, Mr Lee said: “I hope they will do a job and not turn into a garbage legislature.”
He added that the biggest problems in Hong Kong are housing and medical services. Along with the latter, Mr Lee said there was a severe shortage of medical staff and doctors, which affected the treatment of patients.
More than 650 polling stations across the island and in penitentiaries were set up for the big day.
Authorities have also arranged for Hong Kong residents living on the mainland to vote at border crossings. Up to 111,000 registered residents can do so.
Security is also stepped up, with police deploying 10,000 officers to ensure the process is orderly.
Authorities have so far arrested 10 people, two of whom have been charged, for causing others to vote blank – a move Security Secretary Chris Tang warned earlier this week could violate the law. national security law.
To avoid a repeat of the September 19 Election Committee election where there was a significant delay in which it took more than 14 hours to count just 4,380 ballots, a record 38,000 staff will be stationed in voting booths to assist voters and ensure a smooth process.
On average, the turnout in the last six Legco elections was 51 percent. It peaked at 58% in 2016, two years after the Yellow Umbrella movement where student protesters occupied the Central district as they demanded universal suffrage.
But officials fear that a low turnout could diminish the legitimacy of the new Legco and have repeatedly urged people to go to the polls.
Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore noted that globally, voting rates were declining.
That said, he believes the pro-Beijing camp will declare it to be a good race if the turnout is around 40% and he has been pushing people hard to go to the polls.
“If the turnout is low, around 20-30%, then they will say there is still foreign forces at work in Hong Kong,” Professor Wu said.