See More on Facebook

Current affairs, Politics

Why Hong Kong residents turned out in record numbers to vote

Many say events of past 5 months galvanised their desire to exercise their democratic right.


Written by

Updated: November 25, 2019

Amid mild autumn weather and under a clear blue sky in Lek Yuen, the oldest public housing estate in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin, a snaking queue formed outside the community hall shortly after dawn yesterday.

It was the constituency’s polling station of the day, and hundreds were in the line before the opening time of 7.30am to vote for their district councillor, one of the lowest rungs of Hong Kong’s elected offices.

The scene was repeated across the territory’s 18 districts, where nearly three million people showed up to vote in elections that are usually a quiet affair, with chosen officials confined to dealing with noise complaints and local infrastructure improvement projects.

The officials, however, also represent 117 of the 1,200-strong Election Committee that chooses the city’s Chief Executive.

In many areas, the queues continued throughout the day but had a lag around noon, with the sun at its hottest.

While the wait to cast their votes was much longer than in past years, many said the events of the past five months have galvanised their desire to exercise their democratic right, no matter their political beliefs, amid a cautious optimism that the polls could mark a turning point in the city’s pro-democracy movement.

“I waited almost 45 minutes as the sun was getting hot, but it’s the least I can do since I always take part in peaceful protests. So this is yet another example of my civic duty,” said a retired mental healthcare worker in Sha Tin who wanted to be known only as Anthony.

The 69-year-old, who was walking with the aid of a stick, said he came to the town centre from his home in the surrounding hills, where he has lived for the past three decades.

Nestled in a valley between two mountains, the area in the New Territories region has a mix of high-end properties, public housing, a race track and a university with a strong history of activism.

The elections come at a time when the city has been convulsed by often violent protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition Bill.

Tensions reached a feverish pitch two weekends ago as police laid siege to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where student protesters had barricaded themselves in forming a fortress of sorts, a repeat of scenes from earlier in the week at The Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin.

As street battles raged across parts of Kowloon by those who tried to rescue the trapped students, schools were cancelled after major roads were blocked by protesters. Many companies allowed employees to work from home in the light of the traffic disruption.

After the authorities warned that polls might be cancelled, the city returned to relative calm over the past five days, but it remains to be seen whether this will hold.

In a city where the people do not get to elect their leaders, the elections are also seen as a barometer of public opinion of the government.

“Despite all the drastic and upsetting changes in Hong Kong, being able to vote is like regaining a glimpse of hope for those who really love Hong Kong,” said Ms Serena Ho, 32, who works in publishing. “It’s something that we can do together to fight in a peaceful way.”

She said that in the Tai Koo Shing area on east Hong Kong Island where she lives, there were “human alarm clocks” helping to wake residents up at 7.30am so they could go to the polling stations early.

But for some, there are fears that a victory for the pro-democracy camp could mean a society that now condones violence.

Teacher Cathy Fung, 46, who lives in Yuen Long in the New Territories, said she has tried to convince some of her younger colleagues that being pro-Beijing is not all that bad.

“After all, this is a country that has lifted so many people from poverty, and we are historically a part of it. Are Western democratic ideas that much better?” she said.

In Lek Yuen, many showed up to support candidate Jimmy Sham, a popular pro-democracy figure who was twice attacked by thugs in the past three months.

The latest incident landed him in hospital for nearly a week, and as he canvassed last-minute votes outside the local market, a steady stream of supporters – mostly locals living around the area – went up to him to take pictures and offer support.

Among them were students Michelle Tsang, 27, and Yiu Tsang, 22, who posed for photos with him.

Both women, who live in the same block in Lek Yuen, said many of their peers have had a “political awakening” after months of protests.

“Hong Kongers have gone through too many things that make us sad… so I believe everyone treasures the one vote that they have, because it’s representative of what we are fighting for,” said Miss Michelle Tsang.

Mr Sham said the elections are also a way to bring peace back to society in a democratic manner.

Asked whether he was worried for his safety after two attacks, he replied “of course!” without hesitation.

“There is no way to escape from threats, but I get to choose how I want to go forward, we get to choose how society moves forward,” he said.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Current affairs, Politics

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Rallies rage on in India over citizenship law

Thousands of students flood streets of Delhi; Assam state sees five protesters shot dead. Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital yesterday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the north-east, to protest against a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and the police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using th


By The Straits Times
December 17, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Myanmar to be sincere in implementing Rohingya repatriation deal

This according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. Bangladesh expects that Myanmar would be more tolerant towards Rohingyas after facing trial at the International Court of Justice, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said today. “My expectation is that Myanmar would be sincere in implementing the bilateral deal that signed with Bangladesh on repatriating Rohingyas from Bangladesh,” he told journalists at his ministry office in Dhaka. “Myanmar has invited me before a case lodged with the International Court of Justice. In response, I told that I would go there when the Rohingyas will go back to Myanmar,” the foreign minister said. “I also invited Myanmar to visit Bangladesh to talk to their Rohingya people and to understand their expectations,” Momen said. Globally it has been established that there was a massive crime committed against the Rohingyas, that was des


By Daily Star
December 16, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

10 US senators criticise Suu Kyi for representing military’s interest

Suu Kyi is in the Hague defending Myanmar from genocide accusations. Ten US Senators have severely criticized Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for representing the military’s interest before the International Court of Justice and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities. “Representing the Burmese military’s interest before The Hague and defending the mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities would undermine what remaining credibility you have before the international community, including in the US Congress,” said a letter to Suu Kyi issued on December 9. The Senators said a defense of the Burmese military at this high-profile international forum is also an affront to the inclusive, multi-cultural and democratic Burma that she claims to champion. They said when Buddhist nationalism is on the rise in


By Daily Star
December 13, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Japan: Koizumi offers no concrete plan on coal

The new environment minister needs to offer better ways to tackle climate change.  During a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Shinjiro Koizumi, the Environment Minister did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi did not express concrete steps for reducing coal-fired thermal power generation, for which construction of new plants is currently underway in Japan, during a ministerial meeting of the U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” Koizumi said at the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate


By The Japan News
December 13, 2019

Current affairs, Politics

Aung San Suu Kyi denies genocidal intent on Rohingya

She urges world court to let Myanmar justice system work. Denying that Myanmar had genocidal intent in its treatment of the Rohingya people, its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday (Dec 11) urged the International Court of Justice in The Hague to let her country’s justice system run its course. “Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers who are accused of wrongdoing?” she asked at the world court, while presenting her opening statement on the second day of public hearings related to Gambia’s lawsuit alleging that Myanmar had breached the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Carefully avoiding the word “Rohingya”, Ms Suu Kyi said Gambia has given “an incomplete and misleading factual picture”. She referred in her half-


By The Straits Times
December 12, 2019