About 4,500 Hongkongers in mainland China have registered to use polling stations near the border to vote in the coming district council election, the city’s constitutional affairs chief has said, expressing optimism over the turnout.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai on Sunday also stressed that authorities would not force civil servants to vote in the December 10 poll, nor would they require them to report whether they had cast their ballots.
“So far, about 4,500 mainland-based Hongkongers have registered to use the polling stations set up near the border,” he told a television programme.
The figure accounts for 12 per cent of the 38,000 available spots allocated to the two polling stations set up at Hong Kong Taoist Association Tang Hin Memorial Secondary School and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Kap Yan Directors’ College.
The minister said the number was not a complete representation of the situation, adding that more Hongkongers on the mainland could cross the border to vote on election day.
“Most importantly, I want everyone to understand that many Hongkongers will come back to the city conveniently,” he said. “So if they have enough time, they can return to their own constituencies to vote and then go back to the mainland.”
Many city residents living across the border still maintained a connection to Hong Kong and needed municipal-level services or might require help from district councillors, Tsang added.
Registration for use of the two polling stations near Sheung Shui will close at 6pm on December 5.
The coming district council election is the first since the government overhauled the municipal bodies to align with Beijing’s “patriots only” policy.
Under the revamped system, only 88 seats out of the 470 across the city’s 18 district councils will be returned by the popular vote. The shake-up has brought the proportion of directly elected representatives down from almost 95 per cent to just 19 per cent.
Three area committees in each district are responsible for selecting candidates for 176 seats, while 179 are appointed by the city’s leader, and the remaining 27 are held by ex officio members who are rural leaders.
Tsang on Sunday also touched on his experiences promoting the election and said he was optimistic that residents would get involved.
“The general public in Hong Kong cares about the district council election,” he said. “Personally speaking, I am relatively optimistic about the voting situation.”
The minister also said the “voting situation” in the 2021 Legislative Council election, the first after authorities overhauled the polling system, was “OK”, without elaborating.
Turnout for the poll that year stood at 30.2 per cent, the lowest since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
Discussing government expectations for the district council poll, Tsang said: “We won’t make any estimations about the voter turnout, nor do we have a specific benchmark.”
Asked if civil servants would be required to report if they had voted, he said the government would only appeal to employees to cast their ballots.
But Tsang stressed that civil servants had a responsibility to support government efforts and policies.
Secretary for the Civil Service Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan said on social media that she had written to more than 10 associations for retired government workers to urge members to vote in the election.
Former government employees shared the deep concerns of the more than 170,000 civil servants over the city’s social development, she said.
The minister urged retired civil servants registered as voters to fulfil their civic responsibility and cast their ballots alongside family members and friends.
“Let’s elect district councillors who are dedicated and capable of being the important bridge of communication between the government, communities and residents,” she said.