A select group of Hong Kong residents on Sunday voted for members of the Election Committee that will choose the city’s leader in polls next year.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam called the election "very meaningful". It is the first ballot held under reforms brought in to ensure participation of candidates loyal to Beijing.
The Election Committee will select 40 of 90 politicians in the city’s legislature during elections in December, as well as elect the Hong Kong leader during polls in March next year.
Nearly 4,900 voters representing different professions and industries went to polls on Sunday under a heavy police presence to choose among just 412 candidates for 364 seats in the 1,500-strong Election Committee. Other seats were uncontested or held by people chosen based on their titles.
“Today’s Election Committee elections are very meaningful as it is the first elections held after we have improved the electoral system to ensure that only patriots can take office,” Ms Lam said.
It is not yet known if Ms Lam will seek reelection in March. She said the new Election Committee would be broadly representative as it included more grassroots organisations and associations that represented Hong Kong citizens who live and work in mainland China.
In May, the legislature amended Hong Kong’s electoral laws to ensure that only “patriots” – people who are loyal to China and the semi-autonomous territory – will rule the city. The committee also was expanded to 1,500 members, from 1,200, and the number of direct voters for committee seats was reduced from about 246,000 to less than 8,000.
The restructured electoral process ensures a vast majority of the Election Committee will be largely pro-Beijing candidates. They are likely to choose a chief executive and nearly half of legislators who are aligned with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Sunday’s vote was taking place at five polling stations heavily surrounded by police. About 6,000 police officers would be stationed to guard the polls, outnumbering the registered voters, the South China Morning Post reported.
Results were expected on Sunday night.
Four activists from pro-democracy political party League of Social Democrats staged a small protest near the polling station in the Wan Chai neighbourhood. They laid out banners criticising the “small circle election” as having a pretence of representing public opinion.
The four were stopped and searched by the police.