Hong Kong residents voting in the first legislature election since China introduced controversial revamps to the City’s electoral system, have turned out in record low numbers.

Polling stations for the ‘patriots’ Legislative Council (LegCo) elections on Sunday were near empty as less than one-fifth of the city’s population attended amid widespread doubts over the reformed electoral system and low voter enthusiasm.

About 4.5 million residents are eligible to vote for their representatives in the city’s mini-parliament this time, but only for 20 seats out of 90.

However, more than 3.1 million have decided not to vote despite the government’s vigorous push to boost the turnout late in the elections.

A total of 1,350,680 people – 30.2. per cent of the registered voters cast their ballots on Sunday, officials announced early morning on Monday, marking a significant drop of 28 per cent of turnout from the last LegCo election five years ago.

Ballots from all constituencies have been counted, and results have been released. Under the new rules, 90 seats in the 7th Legislative Council will be filled up by purely all pro-Beijing or pro-government lawmakers with the single exception of one moderate candidate, realising fears of a lack of diverse representation.


Despite the poor turnout and pro-establishment sweep, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, defended the overhauled system and the new elected LegCo to be “widely representative,” claimed the candidates “represent a wide range of people with different political views on the range of issues” in a press conference soon after the results were released.

“We can say this very assuredly that all candidates [in these LegCo elections] are in alignment with the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong. In other words, we have ruled out any unpatriotic figures from our electoral system,” she said.

“The HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) Government is confident that the seventh-term LegCo, which is formed after the electoral system has been improved, can effectively enhance the governance efficiency of the HKSAR and open a new chapter on good administration and governance.”

Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam casts her vote. Photo supplied by hkgov.

She also thanked those who voted on Sunday for “choosing a LegCo councillor in their mind, also supporting the improved electoral system.”


A 24-year-old, who works in the digital industry, and did not wish to be named said they chose not to vote.

“I didn’t want to give the new LegCo legitimacy,” they told Central News.

The storyline was the opposite of the last major election held in Hong Kong in 2019, where the opposition gained overwhelming control of nearly all 18 district councils, following massive anti-government protests in the city. The elections marked the highest turnout of 71.23 per cent in history.

The LegCo, which had long been questioned over whether it was democratic and fair how its members were elected, amended its electoral system this year bringing the issue to a head. The changes resulted in general criticism of the city’s democratic politics and escalated reluctance to participate in coming elections among Hong Kong residents – over fears of mandating candidates not thought capable of representing them in the legislature.

In March, the Chinese government enacted a controversial resolution, bringing significant changes to future LegCo elections that permanently altered the city’s political landscape, many believed.

The local and central governments have claimed the revamped electoral system is to ensure the political power is out of the hands of whomever ‘unpatriotic’ attempts to stand for elections, and to ‘restore stability’ in the semi-autonomous region under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle.

Those opposed to the reforms have faced prosecution for publicly advocating boycotts or for casting blank votes in Sunday’s election.

The critics nevertheless argue that such sweeping changes are to deteriorate the city’s mere democracy and tighten control over Hong Kong’s civil society. They have criticised further limits not only applying to elections ever since but also expanding to the autonomy promised by Beijing.

Those opposed to the reforms have faced prosecution for publicly advocating boycotts or for casting blank votes in Sunday’s election in protest at tens of prospective opposition candidates being barred from running and jailed for participating in unauthorised primaries last year.

As the polling day loomed, there had been backlashes in the local and international communities against the altered ‘patriots-only’ LegCo election.

Hong Kong Watch, an NGO established in the UK to “promote human rights, freedoms and rule of law in Hong Kong”, launched a campaign called #ReleaseMyCandidate to protest against the elections following the arrests made to anti-government activists and politicians, including those prospective candidates earlier this year.

The campaign has been supported, spread and joined by many online, especially among the activists who went into exile, Hong Kong communities overseas and foreign politicians.

“These elections are a total sham,” said Johnny Patterson, the co-founder of Hong Kong Watch. “Earlier this year, the National Security police rounded up the entire pro-democracy camp and placed them under arrest for national security crimes, making meaningful opposition illegal.”

Ted Hui, a former LegCo member, posted on Twitter: “Would the world look closely at Hong Kong’s sham election today, and think of the real candidates who were thrown in jail for almost one year now?” He added: “We must fight back by boycotting it, or cast a blank protest vote.”

Joey Siu, a prominent student activist who is in exile, said a day ahead of the polling: “There is no point to participate [in] the upcoming LegCo ‘selection’ in Hong Kong when all those who can truly represent the voices of Hongkongers are behind bars and in exile.”


LegCo, which is modelled on the Westminister system, passes and amends laws, audits and approves budgets, and watches the governance of the Chief Executive and the SAR administration.

Members of the LegCo serve in a four-year term. The government nonetheless opted to postpone the re-elections for a year, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, observers have suggested that the delay was due to the Democrats’ prevailing momentum following their overwhelming victory in the 2019 District Council elections.

The seats in the LegCo were previously spanned into geographical constituencies where electors could directly vote candidates in and functional constituencies where candidates represent voters in their professional fields, which had often been criticised since the 1997 handover.

The opposition pro-democracy camp had been able to win seats under the old rules over the past two decades and only lost to the pro-government camp by a 10-seat margin in the 2016 LegCo elections, winning 30 seats out of 70, and reaching the peak of their influence in the legislature.

Photo: legco.gov.hk


In the latest amendment, LegCo seats have increased from 70 to 90. However, it comes with a radical cut of those the public can directly vote – from 50 per cent to only 22 per cent of all.

The rest of the seats are elected by or among constituencies predominantly controlled by the pro-Beijing camp, including the newly installed group formed by the Election Committee, whose responsibility is selecting the city’s leader, the Chief Executive. This 1,500-people committee is set to elect 40 members of LegCo among themselves.

Whoever wishes to stand for election now must be subject to more extensive scrutiny over their background, including public opinions in the past. The eligibility of candidacies will depend upon a screening committee comprised of principal government officials, making it easier for the authorities to disqualify any candidates regarded as ‘unpatriotic’.

The amendments to the electoral system and the introduction of the disputed National Security Law to Hong Kong are widely seen as Beijing’s countermeasure towards the city’s disobedience in the anti-extradition law movement from 2019.


The Chief Executive and other government officials urged the citizens to vote on Sunday on multiple occasions.

On a radio show last week, the host had to interrupt Secretary Frank Chan for Transport and Housing for his callings on voting at the end of an irrelevant program.

Government’s ads about election day featuring the overhauled electoral system. Photo: elections.gov.hk

The government also made unprecedented arrangements for the elections, intended to cast as many voters as possible, including those residing in Mainland China, by setting up polling stations at border checkpoints.

They also offered the city free public transport all day on polling day, but, it did not much influence voters’ decisions to cast their ballot.

“Polling station is nowhere far away from home whatsoever. Why would I need transport if I had to go voting?” one resident said.

As the LegCo elections were taking place and on their way to see the lowest turnout in history on Sunday, crowds took to the streets everywhere in Hong Kong – not for voting, but travelling around the city, seizing the rare opportunity to get themselves out of the costly transport expenses.

MTR’s staff were run off their feet all day with long queues of people waiting for buses. Residents packed malls, parks and attractions like Disneyland and other theme parks.

When asked about the low turnout, given all the compensations the government had to offer, Carrie Lam claimed she and the government “had no expectation on the turnout in every election” in the press conference right after the results’.

Main image of ballot boxes being opened at the central counting station at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for the 2021 Legislative Council General Election. Supplied: Hong Kong government.