Voter turnout plunges below 30% in Hong Kong election after rules shut out pro-democracy candidates

by Ryan Lee
Hong Kong Elections

The latest district council elections in Hong Kong saw a significant drop in voter turnout, falling below 30%. These elections marked the first since the implementation of new rules influenced by Beijing, effectively excluding pro-democracy candidates. This historically low turnout of 27.5% contrasts sharply with the 71.2% participation observed during the 2019 elections, which were characterized by widespread anti-government protests and a resounding victory for the pro-democracy camp.

In these recent elections, it is anticipated that Beijing loyalists will secure control of the district councils, as results indicate substantial wins for pro-government parties in directly elected seats. This shift in power comes as a result of electoral reforms that demand candidates secure endorsements from government-appointed committees, predominantly composed of Beijing supporters, making it exceedingly difficult for pro-democracy contenders to run. Furthermore, a July amendment drastically reduced the number of directly elected seats from approximately 90% to a mere 20%.

The backdrop to these electoral changes includes the enactment of a stringent national security law by Beijing in response to the 2019 protests, leading to the arrest or exile of many prominent pro-democracy activists. Critics argue that the low voter turnout reflects public sentiment regarding the “patriots-only” system and the government’s unwavering suppression of dissent.

This election’s turnout is the lowest recorded since Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997, surpassing the previous record low of 35.8% in 1999. These electoral modifications represent another step in narrowing political freedoms within the city, following the overhaul of the legislature in 2021, which also witnessed a sharp decline in voter participation.

Despite government officials downplaying the significance of turnout as a measure of the reforms’ success, they intensified efforts to encourage voting. Nevertheless, Kenneth Chan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s government and international studies department, suggests that the low turnout was not a result of political apathy or coordinated boycotts but rather a consequence of the revised rules that effectively excluded a large portion of the population from participation.

Sunday’s elections faced technical challenges, with a 1 1/2-hour extension due to the failure of the electronic voter registration system. Some politicians voiced concerns that this glitch may have deterred voters, potentially impacting the election’s outcome. David Lok, chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, expressed remorse over the possibility that some voters were unable to cast their ballots due to system errors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hong Kong Elections

What were the key factors contributing to the low voter turnout in Hong Kong’s district council elections?

The low voter turnout in Hong Kong’s district council elections can be attributed to several key factors. Firstly, the implementation of new rules influenced by Beijing, which effectively excluded pro-democracy candidates, discouraged many from participating. Additionally, the stringent national security law imposed by Beijing in response to the 2019 protests led to the arrest or exile of prominent pro-democracy activists, creating an atmosphere of fear and repression. The reduced number of directly elected seats and the requirement for candidates to secure endorsements from government-appointed committees, mostly composed of Beijing loyalists, further limited democratic representation. These factors collectively contributed to widespread disillusionment and political disengagement among the public.

How does this voter turnout compare to previous elections in Hong Kong?

The voter turnout in these district council elections, at 27.5%, marks a significant decline compared to previous elections. The last district council elections in 2019 saw a participation rate of 71.2%, reflecting the high levels of civic engagement during the anti-government protests at that time. This recent turnout is even lower than the previous record low of 35.8% in 1999 since Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

What is the impact of these electoral changes on the political landscape in Hong Kong?

The electoral changes, which effectively exclude pro-democracy candidates and reduce the number of directly elected seats, have led to a significant shift in the political landscape of Hong Kong. It is expected that Beijing loyalists will now have greater control over the district councils. This aligns with Beijing’s overarching goal of ensuring that only “patriots” administer the city. The reforms have further narrowed political freedoms within Hong Kong, following a similar overhaul of the legislature in 2021, which also witnessed a sharp decline in voter participation.

How did the government attempt to promote voter turnout despite the challenges?

Despite the challenges and low voter turnout, the government made efforts to encourage participation. They organized events such as carnivals, an outdoor concert, and offered free admission to some museums to motivate citizens to vote. However, these initiatives did not substantially boost voter turnout, indicating the widespread disenchantment with the electoral process under the new rules.

More about Hong Kong Elections

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NewsGeek88 December 11, 2023 - 9:34 am

elections in 2019 had huge turnout, now it’s like, whoa, drop so big! Less seats for regular folks too, bad news.

JohnDoe01 December 11, 2023 - 2:25 pm

voter turnout real low, bummer. Beijing’s rules makin’ it hard for pro-dem folks. Sad situation!


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