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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

Electoral Overhaul of the Hong Kong District Councils

Written by Bobby Kung for Hong Kong Politics/ Legal Issues Section.

On 10 December 2023, Hong Kong residents cast their votes for the District Councils. Tasked with local governance duties such as managing funding for district projects and providing community services, the 18 councils of different local areas in Hong Kong serve as advisory bodies to the government on local issues.[1]


This was the first election since the government announced in May that the electoral system would be overhauled.


In preparation for election day, the government launched a series of promotional campaigns to encourage voters to cast their ballots. One and a half million posters and leaflets were printed accompanied by concerts, drone shows, and free museum visits.[2], [3]


Despite the government’s best efforts, the voter turnover rate recorded was 27.59%, the lowest since 1997 and a massive deviation from the rate of 71.23% from last term.[4], [5] To explain the low turnout rate, some scholars reasoned that voters were discouraged by the lack of political diversity.[6]


Before the overhaul, the District Councils were originally composed of 479 councilors, of which 452 were directly elected.[7] Currently, only 88 out of the 470 seats were directly elected. 179 seats were appointed, 176 were elected by three government-appointed committees (Area Committees, District Fight Crime Committees, District Fire Safety Committees), and 27 seats were assumed by ex-officio members.[8] More than 90% of those elected are members of the nominating committees themselves.[9]


The eligibility requirements for candidates in directly elected constituencies have also been adjusted as a result of tightened government control. To enter, candidates must now obtain at least three nominations from each of the three aforementioned committees, whose members are in turn appointed by the Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs.


Unsurprisingly, all 470 seats are gained by Pro-Establishment or Centrist candidates, with none from the moderate Pro-Democracy camp. Under this new scheme, candidates from the Democratic Party, traditionally the largest pro-democratic party in both the legislature and the District Councils, failed to secure enough nominations. Even some Pro-Establishment candidates expressed it was challenging for them to secure nominations.[10]


[1] Cap. 547 District Councils Ordinance

[2] Harvey Kong, "Hong Kong district council election: authorities say 1.5 million posters, leaflets printed for publicity blitz, but shy away from sharing cost" South China Morning Post (Hong Kong, 20 January 2024) <> accessed 22 January 2024

[3] Hillary Leung, "Concerts, drone show, and free museum visits to promote Hong Kong’s ‘patriots’ District Council race" Hong Kong Free Press (Hong Kong, 28 November 2023) <> accessed 22 January 2024

[4] Government of Hong Kong, "2023 District Council Ordinary Election" <> accessed 22 January 2024

[5] Government of Hong Kong, "2019 District Council Ordinary Election" <> accessed 22 January 2024

[6] Nectar Gan, "Hong Kong voters turn their backs on ‘patriots only’ election with record low turnout" CNN (Hong Kong, 11 December 2023) <> accessed 22 January 2024

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Hans Tse, "Over 90% of Hong Kong’s newly elected district councillors sit on the three committees that decide who runs" Hong Kong Free Press (Hong Kong, 11 December 2023) <> accessed 22 January 2024

[10] The Guardian, "Hong Kong leader defends elections after largest pro-democracy party shut out" The Guardian (31 October 2023) <> accessed 22 January 2024

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