Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said she looks forward to working with a new “widely representative” Legislative Council and played down the record low turnout in Sunday’s legislative poll.

“Whether they lost or won, they all carried out beautiful election campaigns,” she told a press conference on Monday before her annual duty visit to Beijing.

2021 legco election: Chief Executive Carrie Lam casted her ballot at the Raimondi College poling station.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam cast her ballot at the Raimondi College poling station. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lam said she anticipates “reasonable, practical interactions” with the newly elected politicians, all but one of whom are from pro-establishment parties.

In the geographic constituencies, the only ones in which the general public had a vote, members of the DAB – Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party – won a seat in every district as turnout slumped.

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Pro-Beijing sweep

The Chief Executive’s comments came shortly after the results of the “patriots only” elections were announced. Among the 90 seats is just one won by a non-pro-establishment candidate, Tik Chi-yuen, of the social welfare functional constituency.

The LegCo elections were the first following Beijing’s electoral overhaul, which made it near-impossible for traditional opposition candidates to run by screening hopefuls to ensure they are “patriotic” enough.

2021 LegCo Election vote counting
Chair of the Electoral Affairs Commission, Justice Barnabas Fung, and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, opening the first ballot box in Hong Kong’s first “patriots-only” Legislative Council election on December 19, 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Democrats and some local election experts have criticised the revamp, calling it a “huge regression in democracy.” Most major pro-democracy figures are behind bars or in self-exile abroad, or have quit politics altogether. Mainstream pro-democracy parties did not put forward any election candidates.

Yet Lam maintained that the new legislature has a diversity of voices. “I would expect that working with these 90 candidates would be very exciting because they have different opinions on the many social issues that Hong Kong has to face,” she said.

The turnout rate hit an all time low of 30.2 per cent. Candidates told HKFP they blamed the government’s offer of free public transport – meant to encourage turnout – and their lack of publicity about details of the revamped elections.

Only 20 out of LegCo’s 90 members were directly elected, from 10 geographic constituencies which for the first time each elected two members. The constituency boundaries had also been redrawn since the last poll in 2016, when half LegCo’s members were directly elected.

2021 LegCo Election: Stanley Ng Chau-pei, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Unions, is canvassing in Siu sai wan.
Stanley Ng Chau-pei, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Unions, is canvassing in Siu Sai Wan. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lam reiterated that the government had no target for turnout, and said that had an impressive turnout been based on “extreme divisions in society” such as during the 2019 protests and unrest, then that is “not something we should be happy with.”

White paper on city’s ‘democratic progress’

As race results were being announced on Monday morning, Beijing released a white paper hailing the “open” elections as “another step forward for democracy in Hong Kong.”

The 61-page document – called Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems – said that the Chinese government had helped Hong Kong develop its democratic system since the handover from Britain in 1997.

Lam said she welcomed the timing of the white paper, published by The State Council Information Office, and encouraged people to read it.

“Foreign media and politicians will use this opportunity [in the wake of the elections] to criticise. This white paper comprehensively and systematically summarises Hong Kong’s democratic development,” she said, calling it “evidence” that can be used to “refute” allegations.

Lam to visit Beijing

The Hong Kong leader will leave on Monday night to brief Beijing leaders on the city’s economic, social and political situation. She did not answer directly when asked whether she would discuss standing for a second term in chief executive elections next March.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.