Hong Kong officials push for ‘Patriots’ voter turnout
Hong Kong officials are working to increase turnout in Sunday’s legislative elections, according to diplomats and people familiar with the effort.
As part of the actions, two Chinese state-owned banks called on workers to vote, two people familiar with the matter said and an email seen by Reuters.
After a major rewrite of the electoral law in March, with the government declaring that only “patriots” can run the city, Hong Kong is holding its first Legislative Council election without the city’s main Democratic parties fielding candidates.
The leaders of Hong Kong – and the Chinese leaders in Beijing, who pledged to maintain the autonomy of the financial center when Britain returned control of its colony to China in 1997 – are keen to keep the vote. does not appear to lack popular support and fear low turnout, two diplomats told Reuters.
Senior officials have made high-profile appeals to voters, and public transport operators have said they will provide free transport on election day.
Authorities have also issued warnings, including to international media, that inducing a person not to vote or to vote invalid is illegal. Some democracy activists who fled Hong Kong to avoid arrest called on voters to ignore the election to avoid legitimizing the vote. The office of the Hong Kong leader, Managing Director Carrie Lam, and the Beijing Liaison Office in the city did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on efforts to mobilize voter turnout.
Ahead of the election, the two public lenders sent emails to staff encouraging them to vote, according to two people with knowledge of the matter and an email reviewed by Reuters.
The Bank of China (Hong Kong) has sent two emails to local staff in recent weeks urging them to vote, and has conducted an informal survey asking if they plan to do so, the person said.
In a Monday email seen by Reuters, China Construction Bank International urged its Hong Kong staff to vote. “Please vote for Hong Kong and for yourself,” he said.
On that day, the bank launched a public call to vote on its official WeChat account, saying the vote would help improve the electoral system and ensure there were “patriots running Hong Kong.”
Bank of China (Hong Kong) and China Construction Bank International did not respond to requests for comment.
In February, police charged 47 Hong Kong democracy activists with conspiring to subvert for their roles in an unofficial primary election after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city last year.
Shortly after the arrests, the Chinese parliament announced sweeping changes to the electoral landscape, cutting the number of directly elected seats from half to about a quarter, while an election committee filled with pro-Beijing figures will select more. one third of legislative seats.
Many prominent Democrats are either jailed and awaiting trial or have fled to avoid prosecution.
Hong Kong officials have also appeared to try to lower expectations for voting levels or downplay the importance of a low turnout if that happens.
Chief Secretary John Lee, the second in charge of Hong Kong, said on December 11 that foreign agents were trying to obstruct the elections. He did not provide any evidence.
Lam, the city’s leader, told the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper published by the People’s Daily of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, last week that turnout was affected by many factors.
“There is a saying that when the government is doing well and its credibility is high, voter turnout will decrease because the population does not have a strong demand to choose different lawmakers to oversee the government,” Lam said.
“Therefore, I think the turnout doesn’t mean anything.”
She said the elections were now “much more representative with a more balanced turnout” and would elect those “who are patriots to rule the city”.
The turnout in the previous 2016 election was 58% of eligible voters. The lowest since the 1997 handover was 43.6% in 2000.