Hong Kong’s “patriot-only” District Council elections hit a record-low voting rate, even as the government spent hundreds of millions on boosting voter turnout and extending the voting hours to midnight.
The elections on December 10 were the first held under new electoral rules that screen out “non-patriots” by restricting the nomination power to members of three local advisory bodies who are appointed by the government. Each candidate had to obtain a minimum of three nominations from 2,533 government-designated members from the district's crime-fighting, fire safety, and area committees.
Around 1.19 million eligible voters cast their ballots on December 10. This represents a 27.5 percent voter turnout. The turnout rate of the 2019 District Council Election was 71.2 percent, resulting in a landslide victory of pro-democracy candidates who won 389 seats from the direct elections.
As the newly introduced set of electoral rules empowers 2,533 members of the three local committees to elect 176 seats in the committee constituencies and nominate candidates running for the 88 seats in geographical constituencies before the public cast the votes, out of the 264 elected seats, over 90 percent (247 seats) came from members of the three committees.
Among the rest of the appointed and ex officio seats, 179 are handpicked by the Chief Executive, and 27 come from rural committees.
While the number of directly elected seats is reduced from 452 in 2019 to 88 in 2023, the 2023 election expenses almost doubled from the previous one from HKD 600 million (approximately USD 76.9 million) to HKD 1,150 million (approximately USD 147 million).
Quite a large chunk of the budget was spent on boosting the voter turnout for the 88 directly elected geographical constituencies:
Concerts, drone show, and free museum visits to promote Hong Kong’s ‘patriots’ District Council race
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) November 28, 2023
Hong Kong gov’t gives elderly centres HK$3.4 million to help seniors cast their votes in ‘patriots’ District Council race
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) December 4, 2023
However, the voting rate fell to the lowest while a computer glitch led to the extension of the voting time till midnight on December 10. The city’s chief executive, John Lee, applauded the result as “a good turnout”:
Hong Kong SAR CE John Lee described this year's District Council Election as of great significance. The past elections were hijacked by anti-government forces that advocated for “HK independence” and jeopardized local governance. pic.twitter.com/PoRq6HAtFb
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) December 10, 2023
The pro-China political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), won a total of 109 seats in the committee and geographical constituency elections and became the biggest party in the district councils, followed by the pro-China Hong Kong Federation of Trade Union (27 seats), the pro-HK government New People's Party (15 seats), and pro-business Liberal Party (five seats) and the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (12 seats).
All pro-democracy and critical voices were eradicated from the new electoral system. Those who attempted to voice their concerns on the streets were arrested before stepping out of their apartments.
Three Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were arrested, just before voting began in a ‘patriots only’ district election that has marginalized formerly popular opposition figures in the city amid a national security clampdown https://t.co/07L93VEitV pic.twitter.com/gnkEBOA1Fu
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 10, 2023
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office from Beijing stressed in its statement that the new district councilors would put the local bodies “back on the right track.”
UK-based Hong Kong activist group Hong Kong Watch, interpreted the low turnout as a denunciation of China’s repressive policy in Hong Kong:
“Hong Kongers have spoken loud and clearly. They do not accept the Chinese Communist Party’s current system as legitimate. The international community should follow suit by not recognising this sham election nor its results”, said our CEO @benedictrogershttps://t.co/NoTLWENaoW
— Hong Kong Watch (@hk_watch) December 11, 2023
Cartoonist Ah To compared Hong Kong's voting rate to the performance of the stock market to mock the failure of the city's governance after the enactment of the National Security Law in 2020:
— 777文宣傳播稿件大合集 (@hkposter777) December 12, 2023
Peaceful atmosphere, I can now see all the benefits the NSL governance has brought to us.
Following the Hong Kong district council elections, a spokesperson of the U.K. government stated:
Meaningful opposition in Hong Kong’s electoral system is being eliminated. We strongly urge the Hong Kong Government to uphold its international commitments and respect the civil rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens.
The British government handed over colonial Hong Kong to China in 1997 as agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which guarantees that Hong Kong would be governed under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems” with a high degree of autonomy.