Articles from City AM and Der Spiegel
Did you see the people vote? Did you hear the people’s voice? Beijing and their Hong Kong Government mustn’t squander this historic opportunity to build political progress and end months of paralysis.
As polls closed in Hong Kong’s district council elections the turn out was registered at a historic 71%.
More than 2.9m people voted, compared 1.47million who voted when district council elections were last held, four years ago.
More than 1,000 candidates were standing in 452 district council seats which, for the first time, were all contested. A further 27 seats are allocated to representatives of rural districts.
As one of an international team of Election Monitors- drawn from countries such as Malaysia, Sweden, Slovakia, Australia, Japan, the U.K. , Lithuania, Denmark, the U.S, and Canada and elsewhere – and invited by civil society groups in Hong Kong – I had the chance to visit polling stations and to meet candidates and talk to election officials.
Although there were some irregularities, the elections generally proceeded efficiently and fairly and demonstrated the huge appetite in Hong Kong for more democracy, not less.
The most glaring example of improper interference in the democratic process was the heavy handed and characteristically ill judged decision to ban Joshua Wong from standing as a candidate. Uniquely singled out because of his ardent support for democratic institutions and the rule of law, this decision reflects very badly on the Hong Kong Government.
Banning candidates or parties or limiting free speech emasculates democracy.
Notwithstanding this, Joshua and the pro democracy campaigners had urged protest groups to ensure that the opportunity was given to vote in a peaceful environment.
After five months of protests, against the Beijing appointed Administration of Carrie Lam, and massive social unrest, the people clearly saw this as an opportunity to send her a message to strengthen democracy and to listen to their voice.
The pan-democratic alliance fought the campaign on the basis of the five demands of the protest movement while the incumbent pro-Beijing parties oppose the calls for reform.
One of Asia’s greatest cities, many of Hong Kong’s reformers want the same opportunity to elect a city mayor – like London, Paris, New York, Berlin or Paris – instead of having a Chief Executive imposed upon them by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
The unprecedented enthusiasm for today’s district council elections proves there is a real desire for the election of effective politicians committed to finding peaceful political solutions to the challenges facing Hong Kong.
Many people expressed their desire to me of being given more opportunities to hold to account the city’s leaders, through the ballot box – especially in preserving basic freedoms, autonomy and the rule of law – not rule by law.
Such was the scale of the turnout that I saw long queues at polling stations as people waited patiently to vote.
Police officers should not have been so prominent inside polling stations but I saw no attempt to openly intimidate or prevent people from voting.
Other irregularities could be better addressed by the establishment of a fully independent Electoral Commission ( to replace the government department that currently deals with complaints) and to which complaints may be made and investigated. More than 4,800 complaints had been lodged before yesterday’s elections and I met no one who expressed confidence that the Government would investigate them properly.
An independent authority would stop the Government from marking its own homework and inspire and command greater confidence .
There were some reports on social media of some voters being given material inducements to vote for Pro-Beijing candidates and the Sunday Morning Post reported suggestions of personation occurring because voters do not have to be registered at a residential address.
False voter registration is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.
An application for a judicial review into potential vote rigging, access to the electoral register, and false registration should be expedited and reforms made.
Unverifiable allegations should be taken seriously, properly investigated, findings reported and lessons learnt for the future.
At one polling station in Sha Tin I was particularly impressed by the team who were issuing ballots, by the professionalism and openness of the Presiding Officer, and by the enthusiastic and calm atmosphere which prevailed.
One of the candidates I met was Jimmy Sham, who was brutally attacked a few weeks ago – and whose story I had told in a Parliamentary Debate. He assured me that he had faced no violence during the election and it was encouraging to hear that he and his opponent had been able to put opposing views respectfully and without rancour.
This could bode well for the future but if the Administration will waste the moment and lose a rare opportunity if it fails to respond to the elections in a positive manner.
Although only vested with limited powers the district councils are the building blocks for democracy and a place where a new generation of politicians can show their worth. Hong Kong does not have full democracy but this unprecedented turn out underlined the desire for more say, not less. The Hong Kong Government and Beijing need to hear the people’s voice, to seize and not squander the opportunity to build on these welcome foundations.
With candidate Jimmy Sham and (below) outside of one of Hong Kong’s Polling Stations – Jimmy Sham was elected.
South China Morning Post November 25th 2019