Hong Kong has begun counting ballots in its first-ever legislative polls organised under revamped rules set out by Beijing. The city is on course to see the lowest turnout yet in a general election, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam hails a “new chapter for good governance.”

Chairperson 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 “pariots-only” legislative race on December 19, 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

At around 11 p.m. on Sunday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang and chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission Justice Barnabas Fung opened the first ballot box and helped pour out votes from the elite Election Committee constituency at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

See also: Candidates blame ‘insufficient’ gov’t promo and free transport as city on track for lowest turnout

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The 1,500-seat committee, stacked with 1,448 Chinese patriots, will select 40 lawmakers, making up the largest portion of the newly expanded 90-member Legislative Council (LegCo). The central counting station in Wan Chai will also tally the number of ballots lodged by special interest groups including the accounting, finance, legal and tourism sectors in the functional constituency. They will return a total of 30 legislative seats.

See also: Chief Exec. Lam says she’s not responsible for turnout

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.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ballots from the general public are being added up mostly at individual polling stations, except for the ones which had fewer than 500 electors assigned to vote there. The Beijing-led electoral overhaul passed earlier this year for ensuring only “patriots” administer the city has reduced the ratio of legislators elected by the general public to a “historic low,” local elections experts have said.

See also: Chief Exec. Lam predicts ‘new chapter for good governance’ despite poor turnout

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

As ballot counting got underway, candidates began to arrive at the central polling station. Some hugged their friends and other legislative election hopefuls following a long day of campaigning. Some people prepared bouquets of flowers for the candidates.

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hong Kong saw a total of 1,309,601 people – or 29.28 per cent of the registered voters – participate in the “all patriots” election, according to government figures as of 9.30 p.m. The final voter turnout has yet to be released, but it is on track to be the lowest compared with the past six legislative elections.

The counting process of ballots cast at polling booths set up at mainland border checkpoints in Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and Heung Yuen Wai was streamed online by the Information Services Department and broadcast live by local outlets as the press were barred from attending. The unprecedented arrangement allowed Hong Kong voters based in the mainland to take part in the polls without undergoing compulsory Covid-19 quarantine.

See also: Hong Kong offers free transport on ‘patriots’ election day, but citizens seize chance to travel around city

Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The vote count is expected to last for hours. Chief Executive Carrie Lam estimated that the final result of all the three constituencies would not be revealed until Monday afternoon.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.