HONG KONG—A record number of voters turned out in Hong Kong’s legislative elections Sunday, with modest gains predicted for pro-democracy parties by exit pollsters.
But rights activists pointed to slack security around ballot boxes as the vote was counted. The official result was expected early Monday.
“This is a violation...I am appalled that the officials did not consider the ballot boxes sacred.”
A record 1.7 million people turned out to vote, government officials said, the highest number in the three elections since the city switched from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Exit polls predict that the democrats, who have clashed with Beijing over the pace of democratic reform in Hong Kong, have gained three or four seats in the 60-seat legislature, fewer than the six or seven hoped for.
Pro-democracy candidates were thought to have secured least 18 of the 30directly elected seats in the city’s Legislative Council, compared with 17 in the last election.
Pro-Beijing groups looked likely to garner nine seats, compared with seven in 2000, a poll carried out for television stations by the University of Hong Kong said.
Election officials appeared unprepared for the turnout. One observer from the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, together with human rights activist and legislative candidate Margaret Ng, strongly criticized the government’s handling of the count.
“They really screwed it up,” Minky Worden, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, told reporters.
Ng said a shortage of ballot boxes had led to the unloading of ballot papers in plain view at a polling station while other boxes were sent for.
“This is a violation,” said Ng, a pro-democratic lawmaker. “I am appalled that the officials did not consider the ballot boxes sacred.”
Ng said several of the 501 polling stations were closed for up to 90 minutes while officials waited for spare ballot boxes to be delivered.
Human Rights Watch warned last week of a Beijing-sponsored “climate of fear” aimed at Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp and its supporters in the run-up to the elections.
On the Web
Sunday's Hong Kong government news releases
Monday’s Hong Kong government news releases
Human Rights Watch: Elections marred