(1/2)A volunteer campaigns for the New People’s Party during the district council election in Hong Kong, China December 10, 2023. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu acquire license rights
HONG KONG, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s “patriots-only” district elections, which excluded opposition democrats from voting lists due to national security constraints, saw a record turnout of 27.5%, with many voters rejecting what was considered a vote. undemocratic poll.
The sharp drop in turnout since the last such election in 2019 comes after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that was used to suppress dissent and overhauled the electoral system to exclude Democrats and other liberals .
“You can see that everyone is starting to think that elections are meaningless,” said Lemon Wong, one of the few Democrats still involved in local politics.
“Even establishment supporters wonder why they have to vote, because it’s the same thing. »
The previous lowest turnout was 35.8% in 1999. Four years ago, in the last such election, during massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a record turnout of 71% led to a landslide victory for the Democratic camp in a fiercely contested election.
For this election, directly elected seats were reduced by almost 80%, while all candidates had to undergo national security background checks and secure appointments to two pro-government committees. .
At least three pro-democracy and non-pro-establishment groups, including moderates, and even some pro-Beijing figures failed to meet these thresholds.
An unprecedented breakdown of the electronic vote register system caused some disruptions and eventually a shift to a manual system, with polling hours extended by 90 minutes until midnight.
The electoral commission said the extension was not at all linked to turnout.
Security was tight, with more than ten thousand police deployed. At least six people were arrested for alleged offenses including posting invalid invitations to vote online or inciting people to disrupt voting, according to statements by police and the city’s anti-corruption authority.
“BIRD CAGE” ELECTION
Three members of the “League of Social Democrats” were among those followed and arrested just before planning to protest against what they described as a “caged election” and a “big step backwards” for rights electoral and democratic.
Police said in a statement that the three men were arrested on suspicion of trying to “incite others” to disrupt the vote.
Hong Kong leader John Lee, who in recent weeks had sought to rally public support for the elections, again defended their legitimacy given the need to ensure stability in Hong Kong, which returned from British rule to Chinese domination in 1997.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle for us to implement the principles of patriots governing Hong Kong,” Lee said after voting. He added that the 2019 elections were used to sabotage governance and endanger national security.
While some Western governments have criticized Hong Kong’s authoritarian turn under the national security law, China says it has brought stability to the financial hub after prolonged pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Reporting by Edward Cho, Dorothy Kam, Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; written by James Pomfret; Editing by Sonali Paul
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