By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, Dec 19 (EFE).- Hong Kong citizens voted for the first time on Sunday since Beijing drastically reformed the city’s electoral system to ensure only “patriots” can stand in local elections.
Voter turnout at the Legislative Council (LegCo) election was notably lower than the last poll in 2016.
By 7:30 pm local time, some 1.184 million voters had cast their ballots, a turnout of just 26.49 percent, far short of the 43.6 percent in 2016.
The poll is the first to be held since Beijing imposed a radical reform on Hong Kong nine months ago. The election is dominated by pro-Beijing candidates, and boycotted by the city’s mainstream, pro-democracy opposition that had a vocal presence in the LegCo since Hong Kong’s sovereignty was handed over from the UK to China in 1997.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government say the reform, which expands the city’s legislature to accommodate more pro-Beijing representatives, will improve the city’s electoral system.
Critics, however, claim that it will deprive LegCo of all opposition voices and reduce it to a rubber stamp parliament.
China imposed the reforms after massive anti-government protests in 2019 that led to arrests and sentences of many activists. Many have opted for exile.
Among those convicted are businessman Jimmy Lai, founder of the now-defunct opposition newspaper Apple Daily, and dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists imprisoned for organizing and participating in demonstrations.
A 50-year-old voter who identified herself as Chan told Efe after casting her ballot in the Wan Chai district: “Things do look quieter this time. It’s not as lively as in the past. The candidates don’t seem as energetic.”
Chan said she voted because she wanted to fulfill her responsibility as a citizen. Another voter, a 70-year-old, said he voted at every LegCo election out of a sense of responsibility.
Nikki, a 24-year-old clerk, who has voted twice since becoming an adult, “didn’t vote today because I don’t think any of the candidates in my constituency represents people. They are on the side of those in power. I don’t see any meaning in this election.”
As a result of the Beijing reform, the overall seats at LegCo increase from 70 to 90, but the number of directly elected representatives is reduced from 35 to 20. Another 40 seats will be chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee, and the remaining 30 by special interests including business, banking and trade, who are largely pro-Beijing.
There is also a new vetting committee that screens candidates for their public office and works together with Hong Kong’s newly established national security apparatus.
After casting her own ballot in the morning, Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng said she was not worried about a low turnout rate. EFE