Hong Kong Patriots Only Election Sees Record Low Turnout of 27.5%

Hong Kong’s first district council elections held under new rules guided by Beijing have witnessed a plunge in voter turnout, reaching a low of 27.5%. The elections, was by controversy and accusations of pro-democracy voices, have set a record since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong Patriots Only Election Sees Record Low Turnout of 27.5%

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Official data released on Monday reveals that only 27.5% of the city’s 4.3 million registered voters participated in Sunday’s polls.

This is a contrast to the record-breaking 71.2% turnout in the 2019 elections, where the pro-democracy camp secured a victory, reflecting dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of anti-government protests.

The decline in voter participation is contributed to new electoral rules introduced under Beijing’s directive, barring all pro-democracy candidates from running.

The changes required candidates to secure endorsements from government appointed committees, composed of Beijing loyalists, making it virtually impossible for pro-democracy figures to enter the race.

An amendment passed in July reduced the proportion of directly elected seats from about 90% to a mere 20%.

Hong Kong’s district councils, traditionally responsible for municipal matters such as organizing construction projects and managing public facilities, were the last major political bodies largely chosen by the public.

However, the recent electoral changes have further curtailed political freedoms in the city, following a separate overhaul for the legislature in 2021, where turnout in the last legislative election plummeted from 58% in 2016 to 30% two years ago.

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Critics argue that the low voter turnout is indicative of public sentiment against the patriots only system and the government’s crackdown on dissent.

Many prominent pro-democracy activists have faced arrests or fled the territory since Beijing imposed a harsh national security law in response to the 2019 protests.

The electoral overhaul, which aimed to ensure that only patriots administer the city, has sparked discontent and accusations of democratic principles.

Proponents of the changes argue that they are essential for maintaining stability in Hong Kong, with Chief Executive John Lee describing the district council elections as the last piece of the puzzle in implementing the principle of patriots governing the city.

Attempts by government officials to downplay the turnout as a measure of the success, there has been a concerted effort to promote the polls.

Lee’s administration organized carnivals, an outdoor concert, and offered free admission to some museums to encourage voting.

Kenneth Chan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s government and international studies department, said that the low turnout is not a result of political apathy or a coordinated boycott but rather a political disengagement by design.

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He suggests that the revised rules conveyed a message to the majority of the population that they were disinvited from participating in the electoral process.

The elections on Sunday were by technical difficulties, with the electronic voter registration system failing, leading to an extension of 1 1/2 hours.

The concerns among politicians who believed it could affect their chances of winning, as some residents may have abandoned voting before authorities implemented a plan.

David Lok, chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, refrained from commenting on the turnout but said the possibility that some voters may have been unable to cast ballots due to the system failure. He expressed remorse, stating, “If they can’t vote due to our errors, I feel remorseful.”

The low turnout has been characterized as humiliating for the government and its allies, considering the propaganda campaigns leading up to the elections.

The dismal participation rate underlines the challenges faced by the government in legitimizing an election process criticized for its lack of transparency.

The electoral changes, coupled with the national security law, have contributed to a political space in Hong Kong, with critics arguing that the city’s democratic values are being eroded.

The Western governments, has expressed concerns over Hong Kong’s authoritarian turn, while China maintains that the measures have brought stability to the financial hub.

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