Hong Kong’s civil servants should “lead by example” and vote in the upcoming “patriots-only” District Council elections, Chief Executive John Lee has said.

Civil servants photographed at the Central Government Officers. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Civil servants photographed at the Central Government Offices. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

More than 30,000 civil servants from various departments will be deployed on December 10 – the polling day of the overhauled district-level polls – to assist in the election process, Lee told reporters at his regular press conference on Tuesday.

“It is also a civic responsibility to vote, that’s why we have asked civil servants to demonstrate that civic responsibility to come out to vote,” he said, adding that the city’s 170,000 civil servants should “lead by example.”

Lee’s remarks came after several top government officials downplayed the importance of voter turnout, saying the number of voters is determined by a wide range of factors and does not necessarily reflect the value of the new electoral system.

Chief Executive John Lee meets the press on October 31, 2023. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.
Chief Executive John Lee meets the press during the regular press conference on Tuesday. File photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.

In an interview with Sing Tao on Monday, Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak said the authorities “would not fix a number” for expected voter turnout, adding that people might be less likely to vote in “a stable society.”

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang told reporters last month that the weather on voting day would also affect people’s desire to vote.

Electoral overhaul

Plans to overhaul the District Council elections were unveiled in May 2023 to ensure only “patriots” were elected, following a pro-democracy landslide at the last polls in 2019.

The number of seats chosen democratically by the public were slashed from 452 to 88 – reducing the power of public votes to a fifth. The rest are to be chosen by the city’s leader and government-appointed committees.

Constituency boundaries were redrawn, the opposition were shut out, voting hours were slashed by an hour, and each local council is to be chaired by a government official, similar to colonial-era arrangements. All candidates undergo national security vetting to ensure patriotism.

Speaking on Tuesday, Lee said the new electoral system would be beneficial to civil servants in formulating district-level policies. “In the process of consultation with the future District Council[s], civil servants will be able to grasp and understand more of the needs and wants of individual districts. That, of course, will help fulfil their purpose of serving the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

“I am sure all those who now stand for election have the heart and passion to do their job well. So I have strong faith in their performance in due course,” Lee said.

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The leader also told reporters that the government would do “everything [they] can” to promote “a good voting atmosphere,” and that the he had instructed the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau to step up publicity efforts for the race.

He said government officials would visit neighbourhoods and create videos on social media to promote the election. Large advertisements had already been displayed at cross-harbour tunnels and on public transportation, he said.

“I encourage all citizens, all voters, to come out to vote… that day,” he said, adding that residents should bring along their family members, friends, neighbours, and co-workers to the polls.

Restricted race

The District Council Eligibility Review Committee, chaired by the city’s number two official Eric Chan, confirmed earlier that all 399 candidates had passed the vetting process and would run in the newly-restricted elections in December.

Among the candidates, HKFP found that more than 75 per cent of those running in the directly-elected geographical constituencies are also members of the committees responsible for nominating who runs.

hong kong gender election

Meanwhile, the proportion of female candidates running for democratically elected seats is the highest in the race’s 24-year history. However, a scholar said the increase does not necessarily translate into real diversity or heightened concern for women’s rights.

Last month, the chief executive said that the “patriots-only” election will see “fierce” competition, despite the absence of opposition figures.

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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.