HONG KONG (AP) — Voter turnout has fallen below 30% in Hong Kong’s first election District council elections New rules introduced at Beijing’s direction have excluded all pro-democracy candidates, marking a record low since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
According to official data on Monday, 27.5% of the city’s 4.3 million registered voters cast their votes in the elections. Sunday polls — much lower than the record 71.2% of those who participated in the elections The last elections It was organized at the height of anti-government protests in 2019. The pro-democracy camp won that election in a landslide, in a clear rebuke of the government’s handling of the protests.
Beijing loyalists are expected to take control of provincial councils after Sunday’s elections, with results showing major pro-government parties winning most of the directly elected seats.
“The newly elected district councilors come from diverse backgrounds,” Hong Kong leader John Lee said. “They will make work in the regions more multidimensional… and more compatible with the interests of citizens.”
The district councils, which primarily deal with municipal matters such as regulating construction projects and public facilities, were the last major political bodies in Hong Kong to be predominantly chosen by the public.
But under new electoral rules introduced under Beijing’s order that the city be run only by “patriots”, candidates must secure the support of at least nine members on government-appointed committees that are mostly filled with Beijing loyalists, making It is practically impossible for any party supporter to run the city. Democratic candidates running.
An amendment approved in July also reduced the percentage of directly elected seats from about 90% to about 20%.
Several prominent pro-democracy activists were also arrested or fled the region after Beijing imposed a strict national security law in response to the 2019 protests.
Critics say low voter turnout reflects only public sentiment toward the “nationalists” regime and the government’s suppression of dissent.
The previous record low for participation in council elections since the handover of power to Chinese rule was 35.8% in 1999.
Electoral changes have narrowed political freedoms in the city, following a separate reform of the legislature in 2021. In the wake of these changes, turnout fell in the last legislative elections two years ago fell to 30% From 58% in 2016.
Lee said on Sunday that the council elections were “the final piece of the puzzle” in implementing the “patriots” principle in city governance.
The Supreme Hong Kong Affairs Office in Beijing said on Monday that the council elections helped promote “democracy consolidation.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said the Chinese government believes the new elected members will be able to “serve as a good liaison” between the city government and the people of Hong Kong.
Government officials downplayed the importance of turnout as a measure of reform success, but they intensified their efforts to promote the elections. Lee’s administration held carnivals, an outdoor concert, and offered free admission to some museums to encourage voting.
Kenneth Chan, a professor in the Department of Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the drop in turnout was not the result of political apathy or a coordinated boycott, but rather “intentionally widespread political disengagement” under the revised rules, with most people understanding that “they were canceled.” “I invited them.”
“The record low turnout must be extremely insulting to the government and its allies given the unprecedented propaganda campaigns and mobilization everywhere,” he said.
John Burns, emeritus professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, said the turnout of about 28% indicated a “lack of legitimacy” for the new elections and councils to some extent.
Burns predicted that the “narrow band of patriots” in the new assemblies would be more likely to consult like-minded people, and this might keep the government out of touch with the real concerns and opinions of the people.
“This could lead to instability,” he added. “This can result in the government not understanding people’s expectations when it makes policies. The government needs the active cooperation of all citizens to implement policies.
Sunday’s elections were extended for an hour and a half due to the failure of the electronic voter registration system. Several politicians said the glitch would affect their chances of winning because some residents abandoned voting before authorities implemented an emergency plan.
David Locke, head of the Electoral Affairs Committee, declined to comment on the turnout, and said it was unclear whether some voters were unable to cast their ballots due to system failures.
He added: “I cannot rule out this possibility.” “If they can’t vote because of our mistakes, I feel remorse.”
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