Leader Carrie Lam has urged Hongkongers “actively” to take part in legislative elections next month, the first since a Beijing-decreed revamp sharply cut the number of directly elected seats, and warned that calls to boycott the vote would breach the law.

Relatively few potential candidates have so far come forward for the December 19 Legislative Council election, with major pro-democracy parties saying none of their members wish to stand.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a weekly press briefing on November 9, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The government had received 111 nomination forms for the 90 legislative seats as of Monday evening. The nomination period ends on Friday.

The revamped legislature is made up of three types of seats — 40 are chosen by a new Election Committee, 20 are directly elected via geographical constituencies, while 30 are filled via functional constituencies. In contrast, half the seats in the previous 70-member legislature were directly elected.

The government has received 44 nominations for Election Committee seats, 24 for geographical constituency seats, and 43 for functional constituencies representing professional or special interest groups, such as commerce, industry, accountancy or education.

Lam said she was confident the government would receive a “considerable amount” of new nominations in the coming three days. The vetting of nominations is expected to be completed by November 26.

Many nominees are political newcomers and should make sure they abide by election laws, Lam warned on Tuesday.

“I would like to say that when they mount their election campaign, they have to be extra cautious because we have very stringent legislation in relation to elections,” she said, adding she had to be very careful with her own campaign expenses for chief executive.

Legislative Council election 2021 nomination
Publicity materials for the 2021 Legislative Council election nomination period outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

She said the government would deploy around 36,000 electoral officers on election day.

‘Don’t incite blank votes’

The leader also warned members of the public from violating the city’s election laws by urging others to cast blank votes, after former lawmaker and activist in self-exile Ted Hui called on Hongkongers to turn the polls into an show of defiance.

“In Hong Kong, we have a piece of legislation called the Election (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. So any activities in public that would incite other people to either not cast a vote or to cast an invalid vote could also breach the law,” she said.

“I will forewarn that people should not try to breach the law by inciting, promoting activities that would undermine a public election,” Lam said, adding that law enforcement agencies would take “very robust action” against such activities.

She called on members of the public to “actively participate” in the elections.

Her comments followed similar warnings by the security chief on Monday, who warned those who urge others to cast blank votes may be in breach of the national security law.

In March 2021, Beijing approved a decision to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The sweeping electoral changes reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates.

The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it far more difficult for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Most members of the city’s political opposition are either in remand pending trial for national security charges or other offences, or have fled into self-exile abroad.

No mainland polling

Lam said they would be no polling stations set up on the mainland to allow Hong Kong residents living across the border to vote, but the government would look into arrangements for polling stations at border control points.

“The voting has to take place in Hong Kong, we cannot set up polling stations in the mainland for [Hong Kong] residents to vote,” the chief executive said.

election voting voters ballot box polls election committee 2021 sept 19 erick tsang
File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The possible arrangements come after calls from pro-Beijing lawmakers to enable Hong Kong residents on the mainland to participate in the upcoming elections.

Lam said it “seemed impossible” that borders with the mainland would re-open by mid-December.

“We understand many Hong Kong residents living in the mainland would like to vote… because of the pandemic, there are only a few weeks left, it seems quite impossible to resume cross-border travel to an extent where we can allow Hong Kong residents living in the mainland to return and vote.”

Local officials have been in talks with mainland authorities about the resumption of quarantine travel. Lam on Tuesday said efforts to reopen the border “were ongoing.”

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.