by Zhen Soo
HONG KONG (AP) — Voter turnout in Hong Kong fell by 30 percent on Sunday in the first legislative election, as Beijing amended laws to reduce the number of directly elected lawmakers and vet candidates to ensure that only China Only those loyal to him can walk.
The semi-autonomous region was rocked by pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019, after which a sweeping national security law was enacted that silenced most of the city’s opposition activists and prompted others to flee abroad.
The chairman of the Election Affairs Commission, Barnabas Fung, announced that about 1,350,680 people, or about 30.2% of registered voters, had voted. The last two elections in 2012 and 2016 saw more than 50 per cent turnout.
The results were being declared on Monday morning. The city’s current leadership and candidates supporting Beijing were expected to dominate the new legislature.
Warton Leung, who did not intend to vote in Sunday’s election, said a lack of choice among candidates dampened the enthusiasm for voting.
“While there is a chance to vote for candidates of the ruling party and democracy, there are few democratic alternatives, so Hong Kong people don’t feel excited when it comes to voting,” he said.
Others, such as Yu Wai-kwan, saw the election as an opportunity to vote for a better Hong Kong.
“I am voting to elect a new group of people to make Hong Kong a better place,” Yu said. “I am a patriot, and I just hope for peace and quiet, and want a decent livelihood.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam visited a polling station on Sunday morning and said she had “no particular expectations” about the vote.
“I would say that the government has not set any target for turnout rate, not for this election, not for last elections, because there are many factors that will affect voter turnout rate in any election,” she said.
After voting closed, Lam issued a statement saying that the “improved” electoral system had worked as intended.
“Today’s elections were held in an open, fair and honest manner and the entire process was generally smooth,” Lam’s statement said.
Final results were expected later on Monday, and Lam was expected to travel to Beijing on the same day to report the results to central government leaders.
Three protesters from the League of Social Democrats held a small demonstration on the street from a polling station on Sunday morning, in which they said, “I want real universal suffrage.”
Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Minister Eric Tsang warned that foreign forces could attempt to undermine the elections as foreign activists urged a boycott of the vote. Under the new election laws, abetment to boycott and illegal voting can be punished with up to three years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($26,500).
Some 4.4 million residents were eligible to vote. The elections were originally scheduled to be held in September last year but were postponed with officials citing public health risks due to the pandemic. The decision was opposed by the pro-democracy camp, which accused the government of using the outbreak to delay the vote.
The Democratic Party, Hong Kong’s largest opposition party, did not field a candidate.
Heavy police force surrounded the polling stations on Sunday. Police Chief Raymond Siu said around 10,000 officers would be deployed to ensure the elections went smoothly.
To encourage the vote, officials in an unprecedented move offered free public transportation, and sent reminder messages the day before the election.
“Casting your vote for HK – our home! The Legco election is important to you and HK’s future!” The message read, referring to the Legislative Council.
In March the rubber-stamped Chinese parliament passed a resolution to replace Hong Kong’s election law, which many saw as effectively ending the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong has been protected for 50 years. It had to maintain its separate legal, political and financial institutions. After handover from UK in 1997.
The assembly voted to give the pro-Beijing committee the power to appoint more Hong Kong lawmakers, reduce the proportion of directly elected people and ensure that only those loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office.
The move increased the size of the Chamber from 70 to 90 seats, along with members of the Election Committee, the pro-Beijing body responsible for the election of the chief executive, of which 40 were included. Another 30 seats are elected by business groups known as “functional constituencies”. The number of directly elected representatives was reduced from 35 to 20. The five seats chosen from amongst the district councilors were completely abolished.
AP News assistants Matthew Cheng and Janice Low contributed to this report.