Hong Kong authorities plan to set up booths to promote the upcoming “patriots-only” District Council elections at markets under the city’s nightlife campaign, an official has said.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang speaks to lawmaker on a panel in Hong Kong's legislature on October 17, 2023. Photo: Screenshot.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang speaks to lawmaker on a panel in Hong Kong’s legislature on October 17, 2023. Photo: Screenshot.

Erick Tsang, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, told lawmakers on Monday that the government was preparing a series of activities ahead of the District Council elections on December 10.

Among them is a “crossover” of the upcoming elections and “Night Vibes Hong Kong,” a campaign to boost the city’s consumption amid a weak economic outlook. As part of the campaign, which began last month, the government is holding weekend night markets with live music and vendors selling local food and handicrafts.

“We will have ‘district election night vibes,'” Tsang said, speaking in Cantonese at the constitutional affairs panel meeting. “We will set up booths [at the night markets] to have closer interactions with citizens, and explain to them the benefits of the revamped District Council and the new governance system.”

HKFP has reached out to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) for details about when the booths would be set up and for how long.

A large banner is displayed to promote the 2023 District Council election. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A large banner is displayed to promote the 2023 District Council election. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Tsang’s comments came a day before the nomination period for the District Council elections opened.

Hong Kong will hold District Council elections in less than two months’ time, the first since the government announced an overhaul that ensures only “patriots” can run.

Under the new system, the number of seats chosen democratically by the public will be slashed to around 20 per cent, with the rest chosen by the city’s leader, government-appointed committees and officials.

Constituency boundaries will be redrawn and each local council will be chaired by a government official, similar to colonial-era arrangements. All candidates will undergo national security vetting to ensure patriotism.

During the last District Council elections in 2019, held amid the protests and unrest sparked by a controversial extradition bill, the pro-democracy camp saw a landslide victory.

More than half of those seats, however, have been vacant since 2021, when authorities mandated members to take an oath pledging allegiance to the Hong Kong government. Dozens were ousted after the government deemed their oaths invalid, while others resigned in protest.

Authorities said change was necessary after district councillors had “intentionally divided the society,” objected to the national security law and supported Hong Kong independence, without citing evidence for their accusations.

Not a ‘political’ event

According to Tsang, the promotion of the District Council elections began last month – earlier than usual – to “boost the electoral atmosphere in the city.”

Besides the crossover with the city’s nightlife campaign, the official said the government was also working on television specials to advertise the elections.

district council election november 11 (10)
A polling station at the District Council elections in 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

He also said the government would “go deep into the communities to hold over a hundred activities to directly interact with citizens through more light-hearted means,” such as family-friendly games.

Tsang added that the authorities had displayed 64 banners, including at cross-harbour tunnels, and that election advertisements were being broadcast on television 260 times per week.

Speaking to reporters after the panel meeting, Tsang denied that a crossover between the District Council elections and the nightlife campaign was political.

“I don’t think… the arrangement is a political event. We only wished to… mingle with citizens to let them better understand the benefits of the revamped system,” he told the press.

He added that the arrangement would not amount to competition with the vendors.

John Lee Erick Tsang Eric Chan Paul Lam
Hong Kong government officials attend a press conference on May 2, 2023 about the proposed amendments to the District Councils. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Asked if the government had an expected turnout rate, Tsang said such a rate does not determine whether the electoral overhaul was a “success.”

“Turnout rate is affected by various factors. For example, the weather on the voting day will affect citizen’s desire to vote,” he said.

Tsang said that the previously high turnout rate during the District Council elections in 2019 coincided with Hong Kong’s “most polarised and darkest” period, Ming Pao reported. That year, the District Council election saw a record 71.2 per cent turnout rate with around 2.94 million people casting their ballot.

Chief Executive John Lee also said on Monday that he had instructed different government departments to coordinate promotional efforts for the elections. Lee urged people who are “patriotic, competent, and wilful to serve their communities” to run in the race.

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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He was previously a researcher at several universities and wrote about local politics and media transformations. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.