On Monday Hong Kong woke to wall-to-wall coverage of the Legislative Council elections, for which polls closed last night at 10:30 p.m. Many said the elections — the first since 2012, and the first since the Umbrella Movement of 2014 — would be an important indicator of how Hong Kong people view the relationship with Beijing.

But in newspapers right across the border in China, and all the way north to the capital, there was almost no coverage whatsoever of this event that the editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post called “a major political showdown.”

Nathan Law. Photo: Nathan Law, via Facebook.

In fact, I can give you a full and complete summary of mainland Chinese newspaper coverage in less than two minutes, or however long it takes you to read one article. That’s right, one article.

A search in the WiseNews database, covering more than 300 mainland Chinese newspapers, returns just a single Chinese-language report on the Hong Kong elections. That’s quite a contrast to the total of 166 articles that come up in the database for local Hong Kong newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the lone Chinese-language article comes from the Global Times newspaper, which typically has much greater leeway in reporting on affairs outside mainland China. The article takes quite a bland approach to the elections, giving very little indication at all of the controversies involved, including the question of Hong Kong independence.

Photo: Nathan Law, via Facebook.

By contrast, an article in the English-language Global Times, which I include after my translation, is nastier in tone, alluding to attempts by the “anti-establishment” (anti-Beijing) camp to “slander” the “pro-establishment camp” through social networks, and the supposedly nefarious role of the Apple Daily newspaper.

Together, these two articles in Chinese and English nearly form the sum total of all Hong Kong election coverage in mainland Chinese newspapers. The only other report in the WiseNews database is an English-language report in Shanghai Daily, which reads more like a dry primer on how Hong Hong’s Legislative Council works.

The Shanghai Daily report, tellingly, is no longer available online, yielding only a 404 error.

Shanghai Daily coverage in English of the Hong Kong elections is one of just three articles for China in the WiseNews database. But the report is already missing online. Photo: Shanghai Daily via David Bandurski.

Hong Kong Held Legislative Council Elections Yesterday

Global Times (Chinese)

Hong Kong special correspondent, Ling De (凌德)

Yesterday was voting day for Hong Kong latest Legislative Council. Records from Hong Kong’s Registration and Electoral Office show that the total number of registered voters this year was 3.78 million. The election was held from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on September 4. On the day, 571 ordinary polling stations and 24 special polling stations were open for voters to cast their ballots.

According to a news bulletin by the Hong Kong government, at of 9:30 p.m. on September 4, 52.57 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots, up four percentage points from elections held in 2012. Election results were expected to continue coming in until late into the night.

According to a report by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), after he visited a polling station to cast his ballot on September 4, Chief Executive CY Leung (梁振英) called on city residents to enthusiastically cast their ballots.

Deputy CPPCC chairman and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建华) said that the pulling of the curtain (obstructing of official business) by the last Legislative Council had done serious damage to Hong Kong society and welfare, and had robbed city residents of their opportunity to vote for chief executive in 2017, and he felt hurt over this. He called on Hong Kong residents to choose candidates they could trust, in order to build a brighter tomorrow for Hong Kong.

On Hong Kong Island, on the afternoon of September 4, there were long lines outside many polling stations, and some voters had to wait 30–45 minutes to cast their ballots.

[Paragraph on the number of LegCo members for each of the various districts in Hong Kong.]

The new Legislative Council will serve a four-year term. The obligations of Legislative Council members include: to pass, amend and abolish laws according to the Basic Law and through legal procedures; to audit and approve the financial budget according to the government’s proposals; to approve taxes and public expenditures; to receive and carry out deliberations on the chief executive’s work report; to question the government’s work, etc.

Elections for the chief executive will be held in Hong Kong in March next year, with the chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region to be selected by a 1,200-member election committee. Some believe that these Legislative Council elections will have a definite impact on the election of the chief executive next year.

Lawmakers voting. Photo: StandNews.

The following is the English-language report on the Hong Kong elections by the Global Times:

Hong Kong votes for new legislature
Global Times (English)

By Yang Sheng

At a turnout rate higher than 50 percent, the results of voting to elect 70 members of Hong Kong’s legislative body for a new 4-year term are expected Monday after ballots were cast Sunday.

The election, which attracted the highest number of voters since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, is seen as a significant test of whether the pro-establishment camp can maintain its dominant status in the Legislative Council (LegCo) after being challenged by pro- independence campaigners.

In the “Occupy Central”campaigns in Hong Kong in 2014, residents staged mass sit- ins to bargain for their demand that candidates in the 2017 election for Hong Kong chief executive be selected through public nomination.

“The situation is highly unoptimistic for pro-establishment [groups], especially for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong [DAB],” Choy So- yuk, a former legislator and member of the DAB — a major pro-establishment party in Hong Kong — told the Global Times on Sunday.

Political reform to elect the next Hong Kong chief executive by referendum in 2017 was already stalled following strong opposition by some pan-democratic activists in the past two years, who demanded easier access to becoming a candidate. But the central government is determined to bar from office those who have expressed sympathies for seeking independence or defying Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Rise in registered voters

According to the official website of the 2016 LegCo election, 3,779,085 people registered to vote in the election compared to 3,466,201 in 2012 and 3,372,007 in 2008, clearly showing that the rate of participation is increasing. A total of 1,986,544 Hong Kongers had already cast their ballots by 9:30 pm on Sunday, a voter turnout rate of 52.57 percent, with polls due to close at 10:30 pm.

Echoing Choy, Tian Feilong, assistant professor at Beijing-based Beihang University, told the Global Times on Sunday that a group of young people born in the year of the handover and called the “97 generation” have now reached the legal voting age of 18. These voters will impact the result of the election significantly, he estimated.

The “97 generation” is facing more challenges when they leave school to start their career amid an economic situation that is worse than any their parents weathered, so they hold a more negative attitude toward the government, Tian explained.

They are therefore easily attracted to the anti- establishment camp, he said.

Campaign strategy problems The pro-establishment camp also suffers from internal problems, Choy said, citing its ineffective campaign organization as an example.

The DAB has almost no volunteers to help in the election, while other pro-establishment groups such as the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions have so many volunteers that they do not even know how to use them, Choy said.

“We are wasting manpower within the camp.”According to Choy, the anti-establishment camp encouraged numerous members to apply for candidacy at the very beginning to increase the pro-democracy base and persuaded fewer promising candidates to give up during the election, in a bid to guarantee that promising candidates get enough votes.

The pro-establishment camp has much less experience in campaign organization, Choy said.

“The anti-establishment camp also resorted to social networking and telephone [campaigning] to slander us among the voters, but we can do nothing to stop them,” she explained.

More importantly, local media like the Apple Daily, which takes a vehement anti-mainland stance, helped the anti-establishment camp garner as many votes as possible, Choy said.

“The media specifically told voters which candidates still needed votes or already had enough votes, so the candidates wouldn’t waste votes to maximize seats so the pan-democracy group could obtain a majority in the LegCo.” “The pro-establishment camp, however, has no such kind of support from media,” she noted.

Choy said the pro-establishment camp has also struggled to understand the unscientific vote distribution.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying votes at a polling station in Sunday’s election for the region’s Legislative Council.

Polls opened Sunday morning for the specially administered Chinese city’s most crucial election since its handover from Britain in 1997. The vote is also the first since 2014 pro-democracy street protests rocked the Asian financial hub.

David Bandurski

David is the co-director of the China Media Project, a research and fellowship program with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. A frequent commentator on Chinese media, his writings have appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, Index on Censorship, the SCMP and others.