Hong Kong’s leader said that free public transport on Sunday’s election day was intended to remind citizens of the importance of voting, but Hongkongers – whether they had voted or not – have told HKFP that the scheme did not influence their decision to cast a ballot.
Meanwhile, transport interchanges and bus stops have been packed throughout the day, whilst polling stations, which are usually within walking distance, have – thus far – seen the lowest turnout yet.
For weeks, top officials have been urging people to vote. Sunday marks the city’s first ever “patriots only” Legislative Council election since a Beijing-led overhaul reduced democratic representation in a bid to “restore stability.”
At a bus stop in Long Ping for Tai Tong’s Tai Lam Country Park – a popular walking trail known for its autumnal red leaves – HKFP spotted a long line of people, whilst a nearby polling station had no queues.
Stood in the bus stop queue, Mr. Chan told HKFP that he awoke at 7:00 a.m. and had been to the Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo in Causeway Bay after voting. Discouraged by the number of people there, he went to Tsuen Wan and then was now on his way to Tai Tong.
The 67-year-old retiree said free public transport did not encourage him to vote because the polling station was “just downstairs,” but he welcomed the free rides offered.
Analiza, a 44-year-old domestic worker who was also in line, said she was not eligible to vote but was encouraged to visit the country park because of free-of-charge transportation: “It will be my first time there.”
According to Stand News, large crowds could be seen at two theme parks – Disneyland and Ocean Park. Other popular local attractions were also busy, including Cheung Chau, Stanley and Sai Kung.
‘Can I say it?’
On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that firms offered the free ride scheme of their own volition. She said they were a “gesture of collective responsibility” to remind the public of the importance of voting. However, John Tang – in the bus queue for Tai Tong – told HKFP it did not influence his decision as his local polling station was nearby.
When HKFP asked if he had voted, he hesitated and asked “can I say it?” He then decided to reveal that he had “not yet voted for now.”
Sunday’s elections are taking place against the backdrop of arrests and prosecutions after some individuals allegedly urged Hongkongers to protest the elections by boycotting or casting blank votes. However, the authorities have clarified that choosing not to vote or casting a protest vote are not illegal acts in themselves.
A total of 13 were arrested for the offence as of Saturday and two have been charged.
Throughout Sunday, HKFP reporters noted packed MTR interchange stations and also witnessed long lines of people waiting for buses to Hong Kong Island at a terminus in Yuen Long.
Mr. Koo, among those in bus queue, told HKFP that he was not voting in the legislative poll due to “discontent with the government.” He refused to explain further and said the reason was “known in people’s hearts.” He said he had voted for pro-democracy candidates in every legislative and district election before.
60-year-old Koo, who works in design, also said that the idea of offering free rides in hopes of voter turnout was “stupid.”
“People vote in the same area [they live in], there is no need for transport,” he said.
Most of the city’s pro-democracy figures are behind bars, have fled into self-exile abroad, have quit politics or are banned from running.
The city is on track for a low turnout but – earlier this month – the city’s leader told state media that a poor showing at the polls may be evidence that “the government is doing well and its credibility is high.”
On the day of the newly restricted election, Lam added that she was not responsible for turnout, while candidates make urgent appeals for voters.
1,033,968 Hongkongers – or 23.12% of registered electors – voted as of 5.30 pm on Sunday according to government statistics.
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