Hong Kong: surveys close in vote for ′patriots only′ legislators | News …

Hong Kong: surveys close in vote for ′patriots only′ legislators | News …

Hong Kong’s polling booths closed on Sunday evening, with voters electing members to the legislative council (LegCo) for the first time since new electoral reforms took effect.

The electoral reforms, however, were controversial because people of the city were voting for candidates who had been vetted for their political views and “patriotism.” Only 20 out of 90 candidates will be elected directly.

The changes were introduced and imposed by China earlier this March. They were then approved by Hong Kong’s lawmakers this June.

The largest chunk of seats, 40, will be picked by a committee of 1,500 staunch Beijing loyalists. The remaining 30 will be chosen by dependably pro-Beijing committees that represent special-interest and industry groups.

At 3:30 pm (7:30 UTC), halfway by the 14-hour voting period, just under 19%, or 839,563 of the 4.5 million-strong electorate had cast votes, marking the lowest halfway turnout rate since the city’s 1997 handover to China.

By the time the surveys closed at 9:30 pm, the turnout nevertheless looked on track to hit that record low, with just 26.5% of the eligible electorate, or around 1.18 million people, having cast their ballots by the end of the day. In 2016, 53% had cast their votes by the same point. 

Police guard a polling booth in Hong Kong

Activists on blast over alleged boycott calls

Polling booths were heavily guarded by the police. Around 10,000 police officers have been deployed to make sure elections went smoothly, Raymond Siu, the chief of the police department, said.

To encourage people to vote, Hong Kong authorities offered free public transport and already sent out reminder messages on Saturday.

The message read: “Casting your vote for HK_our Home! LegCo election is important to you and HK’s future!”

Although around 4.4 million residents are eligible to vote, turnout was expected to be quite low. The latest survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute showed that 39% of respondents indicated that they are doubtful to vote.

People lodge their protests against legislative elections under new rules

In Hong Kong, it not illegal to refrain from voting or cast blank ballots. From this year, however, it is considered a serious crime to incite others to a boycott or urge them to cast invalid ballots.

Hong Kong officials on Saturday issued warrants accusing five overseas activists of calling for a boycott of Sunday’s legislative poll.

The elections were also originally meant to take place in September last year, but then postponed with authorities citing public health risks because of the spread of coronavirus infections.

Critics and pro-democracy supporters slammed the decision, accusing the government of using the sudden increase as an excuse to delay the vote.

What are the new electoral reforms?

China’s ruling Communist Party reduced the number of directly elected representatives to Hong Kong’s legislative body from 35 to 20, but increased the size of legislature from 70 to 90 seats.

Beijing also increased its own levers of strength by increasing the number of election committee members from 300 to 1500. The election committee is responsible for choosing Hong Kong’s chief executive and many of the members of LegCo.

Beijing made clear all candidates would be vetted for their political views and only “patriots” would be allowed to contest elections.

The election changes came after enormous pro-democracy protests of 2019, where thousands of people in Hong Kong took to the streets to protest against China’s invasion on the city’s autonomy.

rm, lc /dj, wd (Reuters, DPA, AP)

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