Hong Kong public prepare to vote amid new election laws
HONG KONG – Voters in Hong Kong prepare to vote for the first time this weekend since election laws were changed, amid a shortage of opposition candidates months after the city began to suppress dissent.
The legislative elections, to be held on Sunday, come after Beijing passed a resolution for electoral reform in Hong Kong in March that gives Beijing more control over those elected to the Hong Kong legislature. Beijing tightened its grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese city after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 that at times escalated into violent clashes between police and protesters.
Hong Kong then amended its laws in May, reducing the number of directly elected lawmakers to 20 from 35, even as the legislature increased from 70 to 90 seats. Most of the legislature would be appointed by largely pro-Beijing bodies.
Under the new laws, legislative candidates will also be vetted by a largely pro-Beijing committee to ensure that only âpatriotsâ loyal to Beijing rule the city.
The elections also come amid a crackdown on dissent in the city. Most of Hong Kong’s prominent pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians are either in jail or awaiting trial after 47 pro-democracy figures charged with subversion under national security law in January for their role in an unofficial primary election.
Authorities say the primary – organized by the pro-democracy camp – was aimed at crippling the government and subverting state power.
Electoral reforms and rigorous selection processes also led to fewer pro-democracy candidates. For the first time since 1997, no member of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, has applied.
Globally, the number of candidates for election has also declined. This year, the Elections Committee approved the nominations of 153 candidates, or about half of the 289 nominated for the 2016 race.
Regina Ip, a pro-establishment candidate in the Hong Kong Island West constituency, said voters will take some time to get used to the new electoral system.
âIn the long run, this is a system that allows people of different political ideologies to participate as long as they support our basic constitutional system,â she said. “It’s not too much to ask.”
Turnout is generally expected to be low for Sunday’s election. Polls conducted in November by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that 53% of those polled opposed the new electoral system and only 52% planned to vote, which would be the lowest turnout in three decades .
But Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam dismissed concerns over low voter turnout, saying the low number of votes could indicate people were happy with the government and didn’t see the need to elect different lawmakers.
To encourage people to vote, authorities announced that public transport will be free on Sunday. The government has also set up polling stations at border checkpoints that will allow registered Hong Kong voters living and working in mainland China to briefly cross the border to vote, before returning to the mainland without having to undergo quarantine. .
Earlier this month, Lam said some 18,000 people had registered to vote at border polling stations.
Some overseas activists, such as London-based Nathan Law, called on Hong Kong residents to boycott the elections, describing the race as a “selection” in which candidates were vetted by “political police.”
âThe numbers representing people have no hope of showing up,â Law said in a tweet earlier this week.
New election laws also prohibited Hong Kong residents from inducing others to vote invalid or boycott the election. Those found guilty of doing so face up to three years in prison and a fine of HK $ 200,000 ($ 25,600).
The new electoral reforms are a “derailment of the democratization process,” said Kenneth Chan, associate professor in the department of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.
âUltimately 4.4 million eligible voters in December would choose just 20 of the 90 lawmakers,â he said. “If you just do the arithmetic, you can easily tell that there is no real progress towards democracy.”
The lack of candidates with different political leanings in the elections also does not inspire confidence about the possible checks and balances that might exist between the government and the legislature, according to Chan.
However, some election candidates are running for seats with a moderate position. Jeffrey Chan, a so-called “non-establishment” candidate and member of the local Path of Democracy think tank, is reluctant to define his position on the political spectrum.
“We will support pro-establishment lawmakers or the government if what they are proposing is good for Hong Kong. We will oppose if they don’t make sense,” Chan said. “We have no fixed position. That is what we are. We stand alongside the citizens of Hong Kong and we fight for democracy, the rule of law and freedom.”
Another candidate, Adrian Lau, is one of the few in this election to call himself âpro-democracyâ. Lau previously owned a public relations firm, before turning to politics.
He ran in the 2019 District Council elections, defeating veteran pro-establishment politics Michael Tien in Tsuen Wan District. District councilors usually deal with municipal matters, such as maintaining public facilities and organizing community events.
âNow we don’t have the power to oppose, but we can still monitor the government and officials as well as the budget,â Lau said.
âA legislator also has an important role to play in communicating with foreign media. Do we still need someone from the pro-democracy camp to do this job? If nobody does, we just sit there and do nothing, âhe said. “I choose not to sit down and surrender.”
Associated Press Press Assistant Janice Lo in Hong Kong contributed to this report.