Election chief Pang Kin-kee said the record turnout of 56,000 and the need to collect votes from faraway polling stations caused a delay in vote counting. He was responding to criticism about the count - the first result was available only at 7am, more than nine hours after the ballot boxes were sealed. 'The turnout was expected, but then of course, the increase of about 24,000 votes [compared with the 2000 election] was part of the cause for the delay,' Mr Pang said as he announced the final election results. He added that many of the 110 polling stations were far from the central vote-counting station in Wan Chai. But he insisted counting was finished ahead of schedule despite a delayed start. 'I earlier estimated that we would finish in the afternoon and it is now only noon, so I feel that we have met our target,' he said. Although voting closed at 10.30pm on Sunday, the first ballot boxes were not opened until 12.40am yesterday and the counting process did not start until 3am. Final figures and the breakdown of voter turnout were also not released until after the election results were announced. In the 2000 poll, those figures were available before midnight of election day. Chinese University political analyst Ma Ngok questioned why it took so long to open the first ballot box even though some were transferred to the central vote-counting station shortly after 11pm on Sunday. 'I don't understand why they only opened the ballot boxes after all of them were transferred to the central vote-counting station because it delayed the whole process,' he said. Ip Kwok-him, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he could not accept Mr Pang's explanation. A spokesman for the Registration and Electoral Office said the delay in the final turnout figures was due to a 'cautious approach' in ensuring they were precise.