Hongkongers Reject the New Election System

December 22, 2021 Updated: December 23, 2021

Commentary

It appears that Hongkongers are saying NO to an election system imposed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that violates the spirit of the Basic Law, the mini constitution of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

In the election that took place on Dec. 19, the turnout rate for the geographical constituencies was a meagre 30.2 percent, the lowest since 1991 when Hong Kong held its first direct election. As for the functional constituencies, the turnout was only 32.2 percent, the lowest since 1985 when the city started to have elections in its legislature. At the same time, invalid tickets (including blank and defaced ones) jumped to 2.04 percent, a record high since 1997 when Britain returned the city to China.

This is the citizens’ passive resistance against the mainland-style election forced upon them. They either boycotted the entire election by not going to the polls, or went to the polls but cast a blank vote or put in names that were not in the official list of candidates, or even defaced the ticket.

This passive resistance is a slap on the CCP’s face because this is the first election held after Beijing enacted a draconian national security law in 2020, which outlawed the pro-democracy protests and overhauled the local election system that effectively barred the pro-democracy camp from getting anywhere near the Legislative Council (LegCo).

The revamped LegCo consists of three types of seats: 20 for different regions in the city, called the geographic constituencies; 30 for different business and professional bodies, called functional constituencies; and 40 for the Election Committee, called EC constituencies, a selected few of Beijing loyalists. The geographic seats are directly elected, the functional ones are indirectly elected, while the EC ones are closed to appointment.

The CCP may have anticipated that locals would resent the election and not take part in it, so it went all out to boost turnout. Xia Baolong, the director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Office, came out to personally mobilize the electorates. He said that this was the first election in the city that would produce candidates who love China and Hong Kong. He encouraged all voters to head out to the polls in a show of support for Beijing and the “one country, two systems” model.

Following Xia’s mobilization, Hong Kong adopted a stick and carrot approach. Authorities arrested individuals who openly called for or spread messages of a boycott or a blank vote. They ordered every civil servant to vote. They also asked all public transport carriers to grant a fare-free day to facilitate people going to the polls. In the local context, this amounts to a savings of at least USD$25 for a family of four in transportation costs. All these moves were unprecedented.

Yet the record-low turnout and high numbers in invalid votes indicate that all such efforts were futile.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman walks past a government advertisement promoting Hong Kong electoral reforms, following Chinese parliament’s approval of a new electoral system reform plan in Hong Kong on March 30, 2021. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

The only constituency that reported a 98 percent turnout is the Election Committee that is made up of Beijing loyalists. Such a high turnout rate resembles a typical election held in mainland China, where the CCP controls every step of the election to produce a result of its choice.

Hong Kong’s EC constituency was created specifically to pack the local legislature with Beijing loyalists to make sure that the CCP can tightly control the legislative majority.

The chart below reveals how the election results turned out in Beijing’s favor.

Summary of the 2021 Hong Kong Legislature ElectionEpoch Times Photo

One can see that a handful of Beijing loyalists (1,500) occupied 40 seats in the new legislature, whereas close to 4.5 million people were assigned only 20 seats. It is not surprising that the EC group had the highest turnout rate because it voted on behalf of the CCP. With 51 candidates vying for 40 seats, their chance of winning was almost ensured.

As for the functional constituency, it was somewhat unexpected to find a record low turnout rate. There were altogether 28 such constituencies, representing the business and professional people, or the upper and middle class. After the overhaul, all the pro-democracy groups, such as the teachers and social workers associations, were completely disenfranchised. Previously, these groups were recognized as legitimate representatives of their respective professions and hence would be counted as functional groups for the purpose of election. Under the revamped system, they were completely replaced by groups that toed closely Beijing’s line. And yet the turnout rate still hit an all-time low. This showed that even members of the upper and middle class were silently resisting the new electorate system.

Before the election, Xia also assured that the new legislature would be a political kaleidoscope reflecting different political views. Thus, local CCP functionaries told the pro-establishment parties that a landslide victory for them was not in the interest of the Party.

“An election that resulted in a legislature with just one single political color meets the foreign animus force’s aim to discredit the new election system and hence some seats should be preserved for mild advocates of democracy,” said Lu Wenduan, chairman of the Hong Kong Association for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, according to a Nov. 22 Ming Pao article.

Again, this attempt to create a false façade of democracy failed. Of all the 90 seats, only one was taken up by a self-styled democrat, Tik Chi-yuen, who was considered a defector from the pro-democracy camp. All other similar defectors suffered from serious debacle. The election, therefore, returned only CCP supporters. This is unavoidable because it is determined by the election system itself.

It’s no wonder the election drew strong protest from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Their foreign ministers sent out a joint statement strongly condemning the CCP for “the erosion of democratic elements of the Special Administrative Region’s electoral system.”

“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s right, freedoms, and high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Ching Cheong
Ching Cheong is a graduate of the University of Hong Kong. In his decades-long journalism career, he has specialized in political, military, and diplomatic news in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, and Singapore.