A record 401,900 Hongkongers have signed up to vote in the past year following a campaign by opposition politicians, who are aiming to win more than half the seats being contested in September’s Legislative Council elections.
The surge means there are more than 4.45 million registered voters in Hong Kong, according to the Registration and Electoral Office, which released its provisional register on Monday.
The office arrived at the new tally, which represents a net increase of 322,400, after deleting the records of people who had died or were not eligible to vote.
The overall figure is up 7.8 per cent from about 4.13 million voters in 2019 – or 18 per cent more voters than in the previous Legco elections in 2016.
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There were 337,701 voters between the ages of 26 and 30, according to the provisional register, along with 352,953 electors in the 66 to 70 age group and 455,350 between 61 and 65 years old. Each of those age groups grew about a third from 2016.
Registered electors in trade-based functional constituencies increased to 247,747, up 7.8 per cent from last year. There were 239,724 such voters in 2016.
Hong Kong’s opposition camp has vowed to win four key seats seen as pro-establishment strongholds in September’s Legco elections, in a bid to secure its first majority in the chamber since the 1997 handover and force the government into delivering democratic reforms.
In their bid to take control of Legco, pro-democracy politicians have urged voters to register in the functional constituencies of engineering, catering, wholesale and retail – which they have not won in more than 20 years.
The catering functional constituency saw a 43.7 per cent increase in voters from the 2016 elections, according to the provisional register.
The architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector went up 23.3 per cent, while engineering rose by 13.1 per cent.
Voters in the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector grew to 4,163, up from 2,920 in 2016.
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Historically, there has been an upturn in registration, as well as voting, after a large-scale opposition campaign.
In 2004, 303,885 voters registered after mass protests the previous year against a national security bill which critics said would curtail civil liberties. The government was then forced to shelve the bill.
A year after the Occupy Central protests in 2014, 262,633 people registered as voters.
Traditionally, a higher turnout rate favours the pan-democrats.
However, Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, the party’s spokesperson for political affairs, expressed caution over the figures.
“It is too early to say. You don’t know what the [Communist Party] would do to us [pan-democrats]. The authorities may disqualify our candidates, or simply postpone the elections,” she said.
Riding on the momentum of the social unrest that has gripped the city, the pro-democracy camp won a landslide victory in last November’s local elections, winning 17 out of 18 district councils.
But political scientist Chan Wai-keung of Polytechnic University was more optimistic. “The dispute over the national security law will stir up more public discontent with the government, and voters will probably show more sympathy for the pan-democrats,” he said.
Civic Party member Gordon Lam Sui-wa, also chairman of the Hong Kong Food Truck Federation, said he remained pessimistic as the pan-democracy camp had failed to secure the backing of some 5,000 like-minded food shop operators.
Lam had vowed to consider challenging pro-government catering veteran Tommy Cheung Yu-yan in this year’s Legco elections, if enough workers in the sector could be mobilised to register as voters to support the cause.
“Among the 3,500 new voters, I guess 40 per cent are pro-establishment, while another 40 per cent are for the pro-democracy camp, thus the remaining undecided voters might be the key for winning,” Lam said.
In the 2016 general elections, Cheung – chairman of the pro-business Liberal Party – won 2,438 votes to defeat his rival, chef Ng Wing-tak, who got only 647 votes.
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