By Hillary Leung, Kelly Ho, Peter Lee, Candice Chau, Selina Cheng
Candidates running for Hong Kong’s “all patriots” election on Sunday have begun making urgent appeals for voters as polls recorded a 18.77 per cent voter turnout as of 3:30pm. With 839,563 eligible voters having cast their ballot, it makes for the lowest turnout rate yet by mid-afternoon when compared to previous polls.
During the 2016 legislative election – when polls opened one hour earlier – the turnout by mid-afternoon was 26.93 per cent. As concerns mount over a poor showing by voters, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she is not responsible for voter turnout and is only concerned about ensuring a fair election.
Addressing the press after casting her ballot at the Raimondi College polling station in the Mid-levels early on Sunday, Lam said: “As a Chief Executive, I am responsible and accountable for the conduct of the election in a fair, open and honest manner.”
“On top of that, in this particular election, I have set targets that we should be as efficient as possible, for example, in trying to announce the election results as early as possible; and trying to accommodate the interest of voters,” she said. “I am responsible and accountable for the delivery of these targets to the people of Hong Kong, but not on the voter turnout rate.”
In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move 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 near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.
Chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission Barnabas Fung said the opening of four polling stations was delayed for up to 10 minutes whilst a Western District station halted polling for 22 minutes. A total of five stations will extend their opening hours, the government said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Simon Peh told reporters that 900 anti-corruption officers are patrolling polling stations, Stand News reported. The deployment is intended prevent election sabotage and manipulation, he said.
Electoral officers had fielded 69 complaints as of 10:30am, while the anti-corruption watchdog received 29.
Chief of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party’s Regina Ip, who is running in the Hong Kong Island West district, canvassed in Aberdeen in the morning, where a supporter asked Ip to sign an autograph on his back.
Outside Mei Lam Estate in Tai Wai, HKFP’s reporter noted a slow but steady flow of people walking in and out of a nearby polling station as volunteers held up candidate placards nearby throughout the morning.
Ms Lee, 85, told HKFP that she voted “in every single election” and saw it as part of her civic responsibility. “There are still lots of different voices in this group of candidates… The rubbish lawmakers before were up to no good.”
“As Hongkongers, it’s only right to listen to the government and support them,” she added.
Outside a polling station opposite Yuen Long Police station, Ms. Leung, a retired social worker told HKFP that she voted to “show support for the government, as it had made such an effort to promote the election.” She added that she had voted in every election.
Leung said she had not met any candidates, but had listened to election debates and learnt about their policies. She said she hoped her candidate would “not let every bill pass” and that different voices could be brought into the legislature.
Thapa Mohan, a 50-year-old Nepalese construction worker, also voted on Sunday. “I don’t know which is which,” he told HKFP of the candidates. But he heard from a friend that one candidate was good so he voted for them. Mohan is a first-time voter after 15 years living in the city.
HKFP’s reporter stayed outside the polling station in Yuen Long for an hour between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., and did not spot any queues outside. Anti-corruption officers were seen patrolling outside the station.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures are currently behind bars, in self-exile abroad, have quit politics, or are barred from running in the newly-restricted polls.
Into the afternoon, pro-Beijing candidates – as well as those self-identifying as pro-democracy – began making unusually early “urgent appeals” for supporters to come out and vote. Campaign volunteers for Frankie Ngan from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) and Bill Tang of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) both urged for voters to cast their ballots, with more than seven hours to spare until polls close.
At around the same time over in the New Territories, Allan Wong, a candidate from pro-establishment Path of Democracy, rallied for votes outside a busy Tai Wai Station: “If you want Hong Kong to be a diversified society, if you want the legislative chambers to have alternative voices… Please vote for me.”
Ip of the New People’s Party, meanwhile, began making urgent appeals for votes at about 3pm.
Over on Hong Kong Island, non-pro-establishment candidate Jason Poon – who has yet to make an urgent appeal – rallied in the middle-class district of Tai Koo.
“Jason is running non-stop in Sai Wan Ho and Shau Kei Wan. We hope everyone won’t ‘lie flat’ and will come vote instead, and support the only candidate in Hong Kong Island East who knows the difference between black and white!” a message on his Facebook page read, referring to the trend of holding a fatalistic and passive attitude in life.
Patrick Leung was campaigning for Lau Kwok-fun of the DAB outside a wet market in Tin Shui Wai. Leung said the candidate put out an urgent appeal for supporters to come out as the situation was “severe.”
When asked why the candidate had been urging for last minute votes this early, he told HKFP that citizens did not have enough time to learn different candidates’ ideas under the new electoral system.
Outside the Lok Wah Estate Community Centre, close to a dozen people walked into the polling station within 10 minutes during HKFP’s visit. Ms. Cheung, who said she was working in the food industry, told HKFP that she decided to vote in the city’s first “patriots-only” poll as “Hong Kong was too chaotic in the past.”
When asked what she thought about the voter turnout on Sunday, Cheung said that “whether it’s high or low, it doesn’t matter… What matters is that I can find [a candidate] that I like.”
Another voter, Ms. Wong, told HKFP that she decided to vote “to fulfil her civil responsibility” even though “the pro-democracy camp is all gone.”
Benefitting from free bus rides offered on election day, John Tang was in a bus queue for Tai Tong Country Park on Sunday. When asked if he has voted in the Legislative Council election, the 27-year-old hesitated to answer, but said he had “not voted for now.”
Wu Kin-wa, an independent candidate running in the Kowloon East constituency, said that he felt that people were not as motivated to vote compared to the previous elections.
Speaking with HKFP in Yue Man Square in Kwun Tong, Wu – whose opponents include Frankie Ngan from the DAB and Bill Tang of the HKFTU – said that he did not have an assessment on his chances of winning the election: “I’m doing all my best to greet citizens.”
At least three out of five candidates running in Kowloon East, including Ngan, Tang, and Ellen Li, have made urgent appeals to voters with more than seven hours until polls close.
“Actually they [Ngan and Tang] have been making these urgent appeals for many days,” said Wu. “I don’t know how their teams are drafting strategies for them, but for me, I don’t make the differentiation of whether to make urgent appeals, I just try my best to make use of opportunities to meet citizens.”
All election candidates are listed in full here.
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.