Low turnout in Hong Kong's 'patriotic' elections

Since Beijing redesigned Hong Kong’s electoral system in the spring, the people’s democratic decision-making space has been further reduced. Most Hong Kongers stayed away from Sunday’s general election.

Die neusten Parlamentswahlen Hongkongs lockten nur ein knappes Drittel der Wahlberechtigten an die Urne.

The latest parliamentary elections in Hong Kong attracted just under a third of those eligible to vote.

Anthony Kwan / Getty

Voter turnout after the polls closed was 30.2 percent, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported early Monday morning. According to this, around 1.35 million Hong Kongers cast their votes. Election results are expected later Monday.

Hong Kong more disenchanted with politics than ever

Percent turnout in Hong Kong general election

«It’s just a show. The electoral system is fundamentally undemocratic, »says Kawai Lee, who was elected district councilor in 2019 and now lives in British exile, in an online conference on the subject.

The pro-democracy activist is by no means alone with his statements. In fact, Hong Kong Legislative Council elections have never been truly democratic. However, since Beijing “improved” the electoral system of the financial metropolis according to its own ideas in the spring, the votes have only been of a purely symbolic nature: While at least half of all MPs could previously be elected directly by the people, it is now just over 20 percent. 40 of the 90 seats are determined by a select electoral committee loyal to Beijing, and the remaining 30 by business interest groups.

Calling for an election boycott is a criminal offense in Hong Kong

China’s state leadership also used the all-important lever when determining the candidates: each candidate for one The seat of parliament must first be legitimized by a state committee. Its approvals are not only based on the reports of the police responsible for national security, but also follow the stated maxim, according to which only “patriots” who love the People’s Republic of China are allowed to compete.

The political opposition hasn’t existed since last summer anyway. At that time, Beijing finally imposed a national security law on Hong Kongers, which made fundamental criticism of the government a punishable offence. 47 pro-democracy politicians alone have been arrested on the basis of that law. They’re being accused of subversion – for voting in an unsanctioned area code.

Die Sicherheitsvorkehrungen in der Stadt am Wahlsonntag waren hoch. Laut Reuters waren 10 000 Polizisten und etwa 40 000 staatliche Wahlhelfer im Einsatz.

Die neusten Parlamentswahlen Hongkongs lockten nur ein knappes Drittel der Wahlberechtigten an die Urne.

The security precautions in the city on election Sunday were high. According to Reuters, 10,000 police officers and about 40,000 state poll workers were on duty.

Vincent Yu / AP

In order to give Sunday’s elections the appearance of democratic legitimacy, the authorities have tried in various ways to artificially increase voter turnout. Around a dozen citizens who called on social networks to boycott the election were taken into custody by the authorities. Even media that included the option of an invalid vote in their election polls are now being prosecuted. Despite everything, there was a gaping emptiness in front of many polling stations on Sunday. On social networks, some users mocked that there were often more reporters than voters.

But the spin doctors of the Hong Kong government had already prepared for this case. Prime Minister Carrie Lam had already argued before the election that a low turnout should not be understood as criticism. Rather, it could mean that the population is satisfied with the policy and has no need for change.

In 2019, voter turnout was at a record high

Beyond the border to the mainland, China’s state media celebrated the Hong Kong parliamentary elections as a democratic folk festival, despite all prophecies of doom. The English-language “China Daily” headlined at the weekend that Hong Kong had been “seized by election enthusiasm”. And the Xinhua news agency reported euphorically that the turnout of the 1,500-strong election committee chosen by Beijing had already been over 90 percent in the afternoon.

How a really free election would have turned out can of course only be guessed at. But in the local elections in November 2019, a record-breaking 71 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls. At that time, the pro-democracy camp achieved a veritable landslide victory, winning 17 out of 18 district councilors.

« This was one of the main reasons why Beijing wanted to change the system. Because if there were more free elections, there would also be a high chance that pro-Beijing candidates would lose,” says Hong Kong journalist Kris Cheng, who now lives in British exile, in an online conference.

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