Hong Kong’s leader has dismissed concerns over a low turnout at this month’s “patriots only” election, telling a state-run tabloid on that such a scenario may mean there is public satisfaction with the government.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. File Photo: RTHK handout.

“There is a saying that when the government is doing well and its credibility is high, the voter turnout will decrease because the people do not have a strong demand to choose different lawmakers to supervise the government.” Lam said in her exclusive interview with Global Times published on Tuesday, “Therefore, I think the turnout rate does not mean anything.”

Lam said the Hong Kong government would still encourage people to exercise their civil rights, but she did not think there is much to worry about, whatever the turnout rate.

Lam also defended the legislative election overhaul, saying the 153 candidates “all have different political backgrounds”.

“Some are from the pro-establishment camp and some are not, and some may belong to the pan-democracy camp.”

Beijing’s overhaul of Hong Kong elections has prompted international condemnation for making it almost impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand. Most democrats have either fled Hong Kong, quit politics, been barred from running in election, or remain behind bars. Traditional opposition parties put forward no candidates for the December 19 election.

2021 Legislative Council election
Government Advertisement on 2021 Legco Election. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The authorities have nevertheless been referencing a “wide political spectrum” represented in the upcoming “patriots only” election, as top Beijing official Xia Baolong and Hong Kong’s Lam commented about the “diversity” of nominated candidates earlier this week.

The electoral change was implemented in March this year reduced directly elected seats in the legislature and introduced a vetting panel to screen candidates with national security background checks. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure prosperity and stability for the city, though the changes make it near-impossible for traditional democrats to run.

Founded in 1993, the Global Times is a state-run tabloid under the Communist Party’s flagship paper the People’s Daily. The tabloid is known for its hard-line editorials. Some analysts say the paper does not necessarily represent Beijing’s official line.

Low turnout concerns

According to a rolling poll result by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) published on Tuesday, 36 per cent of respondents said they “probably” or “definitely” will not vote in the legislative election.

File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

After asking the public about the option of casting a blank vote, PORI has been put under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Hong Kong’s anti-graft watchdog.

Government officials have been saying that inciting voters to boycott elections or cast blank votes is against the law, but it was only this Monday that they clarified that it is legal to cast a blank vote.

As this is the first ever “patriots only” election in Hong Kong, the turnout rate of the December 19 poll has been under the spotlight. “Whether citizens will recognise this competition will be reflected in the voter turnout rate,” political scientist Ivan Choy previously told HKFP.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.