By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, Dec 20 (EFE).- Hong Kong’s mini-parliamentary election, which saw a sweeping overhaul by Beijing, recorded its lowest ever public turnout and the highest number of invalid ballots, with pro-Beijing candidates taking 89 out of all 90 seats.
Meanwhile, hours after 30.2% of the city’s 4.47 million registered voters cast their ballots at the Legislative Council (LegCo) election on Sunday, the Chinese State Council, China’s chief administrative authority, released a white paper saying the Chinese Communist Party has brought Hong Kong’s democratic development “back to the right track.”
The Sunday election was the first major poll held in Hong Kong after Beijing radically changed the city’s electoral system in March to ensure only “patriots” can take up positions of power.
The turnout of 30.2% is the lowest ever since Hong Kong’s first direct election in 1991. It is also markedly lower compared with the last LegCo election in 2016, which had a voting rate of 58%.
In another new record, 27,495 of the cast ballots, or 2.04%, were invalid, the highest ever.
A total of 153 candidates competed for 90 seats. Some 1.35 million Hongkongers went to polling stations to elect 20 directly represented legislators. Another 40 seats were picked by nearly 1,450 members of a pro-Beijing election committee. The remaining 30 seats were chosen by special interests, including business, banking and trade.
By Monday morning, all results were out. All 20 directly elected seats were won by pro-Beijing politicians. The 40 seats returned by the election committee also went to candidates considered pro-Beijing. Among the 30 picked by special interests, Tik Chi-yuen of the moderate political party Third Side came out as the only winner who is arguably not pro-establishment.
The results mean it is the first time ever that the pro-democracy camp has no presence at LegCo, Hong Kong’s mini-parliament, since the city’s sovereignty was handed over from Britain to China in 1997.
Unlike in past LegCo elections, no one from Hong Kong’s mainstream opposition ran in the controversial poll on Sunday.
Since Beijing began an ongoing campaign to crack down on the former British colony’s pro-democracy camp last year, many opposition members have been forced to stay out of politics. Some have been disqualified by the authorities to run in elections; some are in jail for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government; a few have gone on exile abroad. Those eligible to run, including members of the Democratic Party, decided not to do so.
The Beijing-imposed electoral reform, partly prompted by the 2019 pro-democracy protest movement that rocked Hong Kong for months, has expanded the city’s legislature but made it significantly harder for opposition members to get in.
The overall LegCo seats has increased from 70 to 90, but the number of directly elected seats has been reduced from 35 to 20. 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.
Critics argue that the changes will reduce LegCo to a rubber stamp.
Speaking to the press Monday morning, Hong Kong’s top leader Carrie Lam said she was “satisfied” with the election and played down the low turnout.
“The government hasn’t got any target for the turnout for any elections.
“It’s true that the turnout of 30.2% this time is lower than previous elections, but 1.53 million registered voters have come out to vote in what I believe is a rather important election.
“I’m satisfied with this election with respect to… ensuring patriots administering Hong Kong,” she added.
On Monday morning, the State Council Information Office published a white paper titled “Hong Kong: Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”.
It says Beijing has lifted Hong Kong from chaos and returned the city’s democratic development to the right track by such means as “improving” its electoral system. EFE