‘I am Taiwanese now’: Hongkongers who have moved to the democratic island cherish their right to vote

People line up to vote at a polling station in Banqiao, New Taipei City, Taiwan, on January 13, 2024. Photo: HKFP.

This report was written by Irene Chan and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on January 13, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.

On Saturday, Bryan did something he had never done before: he cast his ballot to select Taiwan’s next president.

“I am Taiwanese now, and I hope Taiwan will improve — although I have not abandoned my identity as a Hongkonger, I still follow news of Hong Kong quite closely,” Bryan told HKFP in Taipei’s Ximending, where he runs a snack shop featuring Cantonese rice rolls.

Formerly an office clerk in Hong Kong, Bryan migrated to Taiwan with his family in late 2019 after the outbreak of the pro-democracy protests and unrest. Bryan said:

We tried to make our voices heard through peaceful marches, but the [Hong Kong] government simply ignored us. Failing to make a change, we had no choice but to leave.

Protests erupted in Hong Kong in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill that would have allowed China to extradite people from Hong Kong without due process. The protests escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. The following year, a national security law was imposed on the city, and in the months that followed, tens of thousands of residents voted with their feet and left Hong Kong.

In Taiwan, where his voice is heard through democratic elections, Bryan has attached great importance to each election. He cast his ballot in the 2021 four referendums and the 2022 local elections. For 2024, he said he “did not have much choice” as he had to choose candidates who were firm in their stance on China. He added:

Still, Taiwan can do better in many areas. I think the ruling party has put Taiwan on the international stage in recent years, but we also need to pay attention to domestic issues such as housing, transportation and the legal system.

According to the National Immigration Agency of the Ministry of the Interior, the number of Hongkongers who gained residency certificates in Taiwan rose rapidly in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019.

However, many Hongkongers left Taiwan for the UK and Canada after failing to secure permanent residency certificates, which endow holders with a Taiwanese passport, a Taiwanese identity card and a ballot.

Some 7,000 Hongkongers obtained permanent residency certificates from 2019–2023, with some eligible to vote in the 2024 election. The Taiwanese government has not revealed how many voters are from Hong Kong.

Jeremy (a pseudonym), a Hongkonger in his 60s who previously worked in the city’s education sector, migrated to Taiwan with his family three years ago. In 2022, he registered his living address as a Taiwanese national and cast his ballot for the first time during the local elections.

On Saturday morning, Jeremy set off at 6:10 am to go to a polling station. He told HKFP in Cantonese:

It took me one hour to arrive at Taoyuan, where my previous address was registered before I moved to my current home. More than 20 people were already waiting when I arrived around 7 am. The procedure was smooth, and I cast my ballots within three minutes.

For thousands of years of Chinese civilisation, [Taiwan] has been the only place where everyone has the right to vote for the highest governing leader. I am lucky to participate in the election.

It was in 2016 that Jeremy witnessed Taiwan’s general election for the first time, but he never imagined that he would become one of the island’s 19.5 million voters. “It was only after 2019 that I thought we should leave [Hong Kong],” Jeremy said.

As a minority in Taiwan, Hongkongers value their right to vote. Two days ahead of polling, a live house run by a Hong Kong family hosted a seminar to help Hongkongers understand Taiwan’s voting procedures.

Hongkonger Pamela and Gerald now run a live house in Taipei and hosted a special seminar on the 2024 Taiwan Election for Hongkongers on January 11, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Pamela Yuen, a Hongkonger in her 60s, told HKFP that her family had run a live music house since moving to Taiwan:

We came here via the investment immigration scheme, with my husband Gerald arriving first and me joining in 2018. Our son came around two years ago. But I always miss Hong Kong and ask myself constantly why I abandoned Hongkong… I am still struggling [with my decision].

In 2022, Pamela became eligible to vote and has closely followed election news ahead of the Taiwanese presidential elections for months:

I am anxious about the election, as the TPP’s Ko Wen-je has disturbed the election with his campaigns… Last week, some friends with a Hong Kong background were drinking in our live house, and it came to me that we should host an event to talk about the election.

We were all concerned about this election and the government’s policies towards Hongkongers. Plus, we had never experienced an election day like it before. In Hong Kong, we only have small-circle elections.

Pamela cast her first ballot in Taiwan’s local elections two years ago. Unlike in Hong Kong, where voting often lasts until 10 pm, polling in Taiwan usually ends at 4 pm. Pamela recalled running late on election day:

I entered the polling station one minute before 4 pm, and, fortunately, the staff there were very helpful. I, therefore, successfully cast my first ballot in Taiwan!

Polls opened at 8 a.m. across Taiwan on January 13, as the island’s 19.5 million eligible voters decided who they wanted as their next president and parliament. Ballot counting will begin after polling stations close at 4 p.m.

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