Reuters and AFP
The vote is for a 70-seat legislative council in which Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition is hoping to maintain a one-third veto bloc in the face of better mobilised and funded pro-Beijing rivals.
The former British colony was handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement that promised to maintain the global financial hub’s freedoms and separate laws for at least 50 years, but gave ultimate control to Beijing.
A growing yearning for independence and animosity towards Beijing in the southern coastal city pose one of the central government’s most pressing domestic political issues.
The stakes for Beijing are particularly high this weekend as G20 leaders gather in the eastern city of Hangzhou for a summit.
Hong Kong’s opposition now controls 27 of the legislature’s 70 seats, giving it the power to block policies and some laws including legislation it sees as eroding freedoms.
Some 3.8 million of Hong Kong’s seven million people are eligible to vote and the result is due early on Monday.
It will give an indication of anti-China sentiment some two years after tens of thousands took to Hong Kong streets to demand full democracy from China’s Communist Party leaders.
A younger generation of voters who joined those protests is openly advocating independence – a push some people warn could jeopardize Hong Kong’s economic and political future.
China’s stability-obsessed leaders have categorically rejected any possibility of independence.
Hong Kong officials are generally supportive of Beijing and keen to preserve “one country, two systems”, though confidence in China’s commitment to the formula has been shaken by recent incidents including the abduction of several Hong Kong booksellers by Chinese agents.
“You may be disappointed by the fact that Hong Kong, the city we love, has not been making more progress,” Carrie Lam, the head of Hong Kong’s civil service, told reporters as she cast her ballot.
“I urge you to vote because indifference will not lead us anywhere.”
Many residents see the 79 days of student-led protests in 2014 as a turning point in the city’s politics even though Beijing gave no ground.
Since then, many have decried what they see as increasing Beijing interference to stifle dissent and civil liberties.
Six pro-democracy election candidates were disqualified for refusing to uphold a clause in Hong Kong’s mini constitution, or Basic Law, stating it is an “inalienable” part of China.
“The rights we should have under the Basic Law don’t belong to us anymore,” said Baggio Leung of Youngspiration, a group pushing for self-determination.
“We are telling Beijing we don’t believe they are going to protect us.”
China has launched a campaign to try to sway the vote through its channels of influence including state companies and grassroots associations..
“It is an open secret that they … pull strings, they make threats, they plant votes,” said Anson Chan, a former senior Hong Kong official.
The city’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, rejected any suggestion of interference.
“Our election is a democratic one,” Leung told reporters after casting his vote, when an activist threw a sandwich at him.
“Voters have their own free choice and don’t need anyone to tell them how to vote.”
Hong Kong Legco elections watch: voter turnout up compared to 2012 polls
Hong Kong 2016 Legislative Council elections.
By Gary Cheung, Joyce Ng and Emily Tsang
South China Morning Post
Legislator “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung has been out on the hustings for his allies in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East – but not in his own base New Territories East.
The League of Social Democrats’ veteran said he was not giving up his campaign, although opinion polls show he could be at risk of losing.
“My allies need a boost while I enjoy higher popularity,” Leung said as he flanked People Power’s Tam Tak-chi at Ngau Chi Wan at 2.30pm. My supporters don’t just look at what I do today, but what I’ve been doing.”
Leung criticised Benny Tai’s Thunder Go scheme of strategic voting, saying it would skew election results.
The turnout rate for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections on Sunday morning was slightly higher than that of the corresponding period in 2012.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at the Chinese University, was confident the turnout rate would surge in the evening, claiming many voters would come out to support their candidates.
By 1.30pm, the overall turnout rate for the general election in five geographical constituencies districts was 18.88 per cent – slightly lower than 18.49 per cent in 2012 – with 713,452 voters having cast their ballots.
As of 1.30pm, Hong Kong Island had the highest turnout rate of 19.82 per cent, while the lowest was in New Territories West at 18.33 per cent, according to hourly data.
‘Get out and vote’: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying casts his ballot as polling stations open across Hong Kong
Overall, the number of voters who had cast their ballots was higher than 641,022 in the first six hours in the 2012 Legco polls. The total turnout rate for that poll was 53.05 per cent.
A total of 3.78 million registered electors are eligible to cast their vote in the Legco elections at 571 ordinary polling stations and 24 dedicated polling stations across Hong Kong.
There are 213 candidates belonging to 84 lists who are competing for 35 seats in the five geographical constituencies.
“The turnout rate so far was actually not bad and the number of voters who had cast ballots was higher than the corresponding period four years ago,” Choy said. “The eventual turnout rate will be relatively high in the light of fierce competition among rival camps and intense mobilisation by candidates.”
Choy, who has been studying the city’s elections for more than two decades, believed a substantial number of voters would choose to go to polling stations after 5pm to support candidates who was in an uncertain and even critical situation.
Voters outside a polling station at Aberdeen on Sunday. Photo: Edward Wong
New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-Yee, seeking re-election in Hong Kong Island, said it was too early to say if the turnout rate would be unfavourable to her.
“It’s too early to say,” she aid. “The weather is good today. Maybe people will vote after playing ball games in the morning.”
Hong Kong’s election watchdog receives almost 200 complaints on voting day
Meeting a group of supporters at Taikoo, Ip said there was no room for complacency even though she was doing well in opinion polls before Sunday.
“We cannot make a judgment yet because there are people saying that I have enough votes, but I urge voters to support me anyway,” she said.
Choy said some voters might choose to go to polling stations later because of their plans for strategic voting to ensure the largest number of candidates whose political aspirations they supported were returned.
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting had mapped out a “Thunderbolt plan” for pan-democrats to grab half of the seats in this year’s Legislative Council election.
Making their voices heard: Hong Kong voters flock to polling stations for crucial Legco elections
Tai, an HKU law professor, was confident that non-establishment candidates could win half the 70 seats up for grabs, provided they put aside their sectoral interests and personal agendas to work under a concerted strategy. Tai had urged the pan-democrats to sign up at least 10,000 voters in each of the five geographical constituencies. They would withhold their ballots until the last moment, to vote tactically in response to exit poll results.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Angus Chiu Chi-fan, organisers of the “Thunderbolt plan”. Photo: K. Y. Cheng
But eventually only 25,000 voters across five constituencies signed up for the ambitious plan.
Localist Wong Yeung-tat slams Tai’s scheme for strategic voting, which recommends strategic voters to elect another radical Tam Tak-chi in Kowloon East instead of him in order to uphold the pan-democrats’ critical minority in Legco.
This came after Tai’s Thunder Go plan last night announced that more than 70 per cent of those who took part in his internal poll through Telegram said they did not choose Wong.
“This is crazy,” the Civic Passion candidate told the Post while canvassing for votes in San Po Kong. “Other polls show I am competing for he last seat with Paul Tse Wai-chun. If Benny Tai made that appeal he would in turn help Paul Tse win.”
In some polling stations, there are notably more middle-aged voters queuing to take their ballots.
At around noon time, queues of voters lining up at the Sha Tin Town Hall were especially long at three out of six of the queues for middle-aged voters.
There were more than a dozen waiting at the three registration queues for voters with identity card number heading with alphabet D to E, F and G to K.
Katherine Ma, 50, who works for a tertiary institution in Hong Kong, said she spent 20 minutes in total to make her vote as she queued at the category G to K.
“It took me ten minutes to get my identity card registered and another ten minutes to wait for the ballot paper for my super seat vote. It has not been so long in my past experience,” Ma said.
Choy said it was notable from previous elections that young voters were more inclined to come out to vote in evening of the polling day.
Tags: "Long Hair", “people power”, Basic Law, Benny Tai, China, China's Communist Party, Hong Kong, Hong Kong election, Hong Kong’s economic and political future, independence, League of Social Democrats, Legislative Council, Leung Chun-ying, Leung Kwok-hung, localists, New People’s Party, one country two systems, pro-democracy, Regina Ip, Wong Yeung