Pro-Beijing candidates surged to victory in an updated “patriots”-only legislative election in Hong Kong, with turnout hitting a record low amid China’s crackdown on the city’s freedoms, according to opponents.
Pro-democracy groups saw the 30.2 percent turnout as a rebuke to China after it implemented a comprehensive national security statute and sweeping electoral modifications to further entrench its authoritarian grip on the city.
Pro-Beijing and pro-establishment candidates won nearly all of the seats, with some cheering on stage at the vote-counting center and chanting “guaranteed win.”
Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, said at a press conference on Monday that turnout was definitely low, but she was unable to provide precise explanations.
“However, with 1.35 million people voting, it cannot be said that this was not an election that received widespread public support,” Lam remarked.
Starry Lee, the leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), which won half of the directly elected seats, said the patriots-only regulations will improve administration when questioned if the low participation indicated her party had a popular mandate.
“People will need time to adjust to this system,” she told reporters at the vote-counting center.
Some foreign countries, rights groups, and mainstream Hong Kong pro-democracy parties, who did not participate in the polls, have criticized the election as undemocratic because only candidates vetted by the government as “patriots” were allowed to compete.
The majority of the dozen or so candidates who identified as moderates, including former democratic lawmaker Frederick Fung, were defeated by pro-Beijing opponents.
“It’s difficult to persuade people” (to vote). “I believe they are apathetic,” Fung told Reuters.
After the city’s 1997 handover from British to Chinese sovereignty, the previous low for a legislative election was 43.6 percent in 2000.
The election was praised as a “successful practice of democracy with Hong Kong characteristics” by China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, the Beijing government’s representative in the territory.
The Chinese government stated it had provided constant assistance to Hong Kong in strengthening its “democratic system” in a 57-page white paper released on Monday, criticizing the often-violent 2019 pro-democracy protests.
Lam, who is in Beijing this week for her annual report to state leaders, said the document was a timely reaction to foreign governments’ and media’s criticism of the elections.
In the most recent major citywide election for district council seats in 2019, turnout was 71 percent, with Democrats winning nearly 90 percent of the 452 seats.