With no candidates to support, democrats in Hong Kong spent the “patriots only” election day – notably more muted than in years past – working, catching up on their rest or taking advantage of the free public transport intended to boost voter turnout.

Derek Chu, a former Yau Tsim Mong district councillor, told HKFP in the afternoon that he had been manning his newly opened food and lifestyle accessories shop in Mong Kok all day.

Derek Chu
Member of Community March Derek Chu holding up a sign that reads: in a street booth in Mong Kok on June 4, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Chu had voted in every previous Legislative Council election since he turned 18 and also helped in the successful campaigns of democrats including Andrew Wan and Lee Cheuk-yan. In the past, election days involved plenty of running around to support preferred candidates.

This year, he said, it was just an “ordinary Sunday.”

Dismal turnout

By mid-afternoon, fewer than 20 per cent of registered voters had cast their ballots. The final turnout was 30.2 per cent, a record low.

2021 LegCo Election: DAB volunteers canvassing for Edward Leung.
DAB volunteers canvassing for Edward Leung. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

With a multi-step screening process to ensure candidates are loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing’s electoral revamp effectively barred members of the opposition from running in the elections. The overhaul has been widely criticised for cutting democratic representation, with the number of directly elected geographic seats reduced from 50 per cent of the legislature to around 20 per cent.

Officials played down the low turnout. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a Mid-Levels polling station in the morning that she was not responsible for it and was only concerned about ensuring a fair election.

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.

Shortly after polls opened, the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats held a small demonstration near Lam’s polling station, as they do during every Legislative Council election to demand universal suffrage.

“We are protesting against Carrie Lam for destroying our electoral system under the guise of improving the election, but in reality, completely depriving the Hong Kong people of their voting rights,” said Chan Po-ying, chairperson of the league.

Chan Po-ying
Chan Po-ying speaking outside the Wan Chai District Court after 10 democrats received sentences to up to 18 months in jail on May 28, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chan told HKFP later she had no personal plans for the “quiet” day other than getting some rest.

Fernando Cheung, a former lawmaker, said he “spent the precious Sunday” with his family and also attended a funeral.

Fernando Cheung
Fernando Cheung. File photo: LegCo, via Flickr,

With Beijing’s electoral revamp designed to bar members of the opposition from running, activists from traditional pro-democracy parties sat out the elections. Most of the city’s prominent democrats are either remanded in custody, jailed, in self-exile abroad or have quit politics.

Free transport day

Meanwhile, former district councillor in Tsim Sha Tsui West, Leslie Chan, took a leisurely tour around Hong Kong.

Authorities made most public transportation, including the MTR, trams and buses, free on election day – even though most of the 630 polling stations in the city are within walking distance of housing estates and homes.

Chan recorded his travels on his Facebook page. He started in the morning in Hung Hom, passed through Tsim Sha Tsui and Diamond Hill, and was in Sai Kung by around 2:30 pm, where he admired autumn leaves at a bus stop. For dinner, he had a burger in Kwai Chung.

“It seems like this free ride day is quite welcomed by citizens,” Chan said in a Facebook live video showing a packed train carriage. “It would usually not be this crowded on a Sunday morning.

Pro-Beijing sweep

Results of the elections were announced on Monday morning. Among the 90 seats in the legislature, all but one were won by a non-pro-establishment candidate.

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.

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.

Lam said she anticipates “reasonable, practical interactions” with the newly elected politicians, all but one of whom are from pro-establishment parties. The new legislative term will begin on January 1, 2022.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.