Hong Kong sees record low voter turnout in first 'China patriots only' election

A polling station in Hong Kong during the Legislative Council election on December 19.

Hong Kong (CNN)Hong Kong's first "patriots only" legislative election witnessed a record low turnout on Sunday, reflecting a steep decline in civic and political engagement following Beijing's overhaul of the city's electoral processes.

According to a government news release, provisional turnout was 30.2% by close of polls -- far lower than the previous record low of 43.6%, in 2000. The last legislative election five years ago saw a 58% turnout.
In an attempt to boost the vote, the city offered free public transport all day -- but rather than going to the polls, many Hong Kongers instead appeared to take the free trains and buses to hiking trails and campsites.
    The results, announced Monday morning, saw pro-establishment candidates claim all 20 seats in the available geographic constituencies. None of the city's major pro-democracy parties fielded any candidates.
      Carrie Lam, the city's leader, thanked voters late Sunday night, saying it was "an important election following the improvements to the electoral system to implement the principle of 'patriots administering Hong Kong."
      The vote comes two years after pro-democracy, anti-government protests rocked Hong Kong for months, and more than a year after the introduction of a national security law, which bans secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces -- events that have completely transformed the city's social and political landscape.
      It's also the city's first Legislative Council election since stringent new electoral reforms were passed in March. The changes gave the government greater vetting powers, dramatically lessening the public's ability to vote directly for candidates, and only allowed government-screened "patriots" -- those loyal to Beijing and its ruling Communist Party -- to stand.
        Under the previous system, about half of the 70-seat legislature was directly elected by the public, while the other half was chosen by trade and industry bodies that usually favor pro-China candidates.
        The new reforms expanded the legislature to 90 seats -- but the vast majority of these are controlled by a pro-Beijing, government-appointed committee, and trade and industry bodies. Now, only 20 seats are directly elected by the public -- the lowest number since Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.
        A banner outside a polling station in Hong Kong during the Legislative Council election on December 19.
        A number of Hong Kong activists who fled abroad called on voters to boycott the election in the run-up to Sunday, arguing it was a sham election -- a criticism echoed by many rights groups and international observers.
        Former lawmakers Nathan Law and Ted Hui, both in self-exile, were among those advocating a boycott. Hong Kong authorities subsequently issued arrest warrants against them.
        In Lam's statement Sunday night, she argued the new electoral system was needed for order and good "governance," adding that in previous elections, "anti-China forces entered the political system ... throwing the Legislative Council into chaos."