Urgency to end chaos in HK behind high turnout
By Chen Qingqing, Wang Wenwen, Bai Yunyi and Yang Sheng in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/24 9:45:57 Last Updated: 2019/11/25 0:10:06
Voters complain pro-democracy supporters obstructing process
A record number of Hong Kong residents flocked to polling stations on Sunday to cast their vote in district council elections, as more people were encouraged to vote this year following months of protests that morphed into violent riots.
As of 1:30 pm, the turnout had surpassed 1.5 million, with a voting rate of 37 percent. The number surpassed the overall number in the previous district council elections in 2015, according to local media reports. By 9:30 pm, the voting rate had already reached 69.04 percent, higher than the overall rate in 2015, with polling stations closing at 10:30 pm Sunday night.
Some registered voters began heading toward the polling stations early Sunday morning as about 4 million registered voters, a record high, were expected to cast their ballot.
Amid high voting enthusiasm, about half an hour before the polls opened in the district of To Kwa Wan, local residents were already lining up in front of the polling station. "This is unprecedented, we've not seen so many people coming out to vote in previous district elections," one resident surnamed Ho told the Global Times.
Although it took hours to line up at the polling stations, fewer people complained about the longer waits. If it happened years ago, voters would have blamed the government for why it took so long to cast the vote," a driver called Allan told the Global Times. "But this year it's different. People have so much dissatisfaction with this society filled with violence as well as with government policies, but many can't do anything but vote."
Even a wait of three or four hours would be fine, as they need to exercise this voting power, he noted.
The district council elections, held every four years, kicked off after months of escalating violence. Pro-establishment groups urged people to vote to end the riots and chaos as opposition groups are believed to be behind the anti-government protests.
Some registered voters even flew a long way to cast their votes at home. "My cousin Reine who lives in Dubai landed in Hong Kong at midnight to vote, as she thinks each vote will count," a local resident told the Global Times, noting that many residents like her believed that their votes could help change the current situation and end the violence.
The first batch of voters entered the polling station at To Kwa Wan in Kowloon at 7:30 am Sunday, where "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is contesting against heavyweight pro-establishment candidate Starry Lee Wai-king. Most voters at the polling station at ELCHK Hung Hom Lutheran Primary School at that hour were middle-aged and elderly. Several Civil Aid Security staff were deployed to maintain order.
There have been long lines outside polling stations in almost every district. To ensure the fairness of the voting process, election staff carefully checked voters' identity before letting them into polling stations, where riot police were also deployed to ensure safety.
Among the more than 1,000 candidates, about 320 are from pro-establishment parties and more than 390 from pan-democratic groups. Over 370 candidates claimed to be "independent," and the remainder did not provide their political background.
"More Hong Kong people are engaging in the voting process as supporters for pro-establishment [candidates] firmly support the stability of the city, and many citizens have realized that," Tang Fei, member of the council of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times.
These are the first district elections held amid the ongoing social unrest that has turned increasingly violent. The Hong Kong Police Force vowed to enhance security during the elections, and police will be on "maximum reserve" mode to stop any disruptions or violence but maintain a "minimum presence," according to local media reports.
In the Lok Tsui constituency of Tuen Men, voters were seen lining up according to instructions from security staff. This is the area where pro-establishment candidate Junius Ho is running against pan-democratic Cary Lo Chun-yu. Community workers rallied support for their candidates across the street. In the nearby Butterfly constituency, a pro-establishment candidate casually chatted with passers-by.
Some warning notices were placed outside many polling stations as messages on messaging app Telegram indicated that anti-government protesters could line up in front of the polling stations to obstruct others from voting for pro-establishment candidates.
Legislator Elizabeth Quat alleged on her social media feed that citizens complained about some young people who remained in the line to prevent others from voting. They also hindered elderly people from voting, with some becoming tired and giving up, according to Quat. Quat called on people to say no to violence and urged the government to take due measures to ensure a fair and just election.
Stanley Ng Chau-pei, president and former chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, also criticized allegations of people deliberately hindering people lining up to vote, and called for those who had not yet voted to go to the polling stations.
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