Hong Kong Prepares For ‘Patriots Only’ Poll Amid Boycott Calls | Elections News
Days before the legislative elections in Hong Kong, candidates are swarming the streets of the Chinese-controlled city in search of last-minute votes. But locals say there is little enthusiasm to vote this time around.
A woman told Al Jazeera that many Hong Kong voters view the Dec. 19 poll as a “selection” and not an “election.” Indeed, electoral reforms – introduced by Beijing earlier this year – mean that only candidates who have successfully passed the authorities’ “patriots only” selection process have been allowed to stand.
Only three of the 153 candidates Candidates for this year’s election openly identify themselves as pro-democracy, according to the South China Morning Post, marking a radical shift in the semi-autonomous territory that was rocked by protests calling for greater democracy in 2014 and new, in 2019.
“What you see are people who give birth to very broad candidates,” said the resident, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
“Nobody takes a brochure. People see the candidates on the sidewalk and they cross the road, the same way they cross the road when they see a police station or the national security office.
Originally scheduled for September last year, elections for Hong Kong’s legislative council have been delayed by more than a year, with authorities citing concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to postpone the vote follows a sweeping crackdown on dissent in China’s freest city, with mass arrests and Beijing’s introduction of a national security law criminalizing subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces up to life imprisonment. This law has been used to prosecute politicians, activists and even the media. Most of the city’s pro-democracy politicians are now in prison or in exile.
While Hong Kong’s political freedoms have all but disappeared, Beijing has targeted the city’s parliament, known as LegCo. Electoral changes redesigned constituencies and reduced the number of candidates chosen directly by the public from 35 to 20.
Another 30 seats will be chosen by occupation-linked voting blocs, and 40 seats will be nominated by a committee headed by pro-Beijing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
Amid the crackdown, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute discovered that only 52 percent of respondents the intention to vote, marking a low in 30 years for the legislative elections. Many voters are expected to boycott the vote or overturn their ballots, although urging others to do so could lead to an arrest.
Six people have been arrested so far for urging others to boycott, according to local media, or simply reposting Facebook posts about a potential boycott. The government has also issued arrest warrants for former lawmakers Ted Hui and Yau Man-chun, who called for a boycott of the vote from exile in the UK and Australia, respectively.
Even so, many believe it is the only option left for them.
“Right now, the biggest discussion in Hong Kong is how people come together in a climate where everything is predetermined and you have no meaningful opportunity to express your point of view; because there is no candidate who will talk about electoral reform, democracy or the principles of the Basic Law that we have been promised, ”said the resident.
“The discussion in Hong Kong right now is whether you’re not voting, or going to vote blank and which of these tactics is the most significant, so to speak. Now there are obviously different points of view, but one way to think about it is that authoritarian regimes everywhere like to legitimize themselves through performative democracy. You give them the opportunity [so they] can say that a certain percentage of the audience participated.
Hong Kong-exiled democracy activist Nathan Law also described voting for Al Jazeera as a “selection” process.
“This is not an election – the candidates are carefully selected by the political police and they had to have the support of pro-Beijing politicians,” he said. “The seats elected by universal suffrage have been drastically reduced to just 20 percent. We must not give any legitimacy to this election by voting.
The strict vetting process and sidelining of the city’s pro-democracy camp means that many candidates for Sunday’s election are rookies, which critics say can be seen in their lack of understanding of the issues. that affect their constituencies, such as how the city’s metro operates and where stations are located.
“There is a glaring lack of debate and knowledge among the candidates, some really struggle to know – it seems – their own community. One laughed at not knowing there was a subway station in Sai Wan Ho, others just don’t talk about politics, don’t have a manifesto, or aren’t even on the networks. social, ”said a reporter from Hong Kong who asked to stay. anonymous citing the authorities’ changing “red lines”.
But city officials say the new faces could mean a fresh start for the Hong Kong legislature after the 2019 unrest.
“It may seem like you don’t have a lot of old faces from the pro-democracy camp so to speak, but then is it fair to say that these are now faces with one voice,” said Bernard Chan, a member of the National People’s Congress of China and an unofficial organizer of the Executive Council of the government, however.
“I believe that each district has an opposition candidate, but they do not have the same background as the others.
He added, “(Beijing) has made it clear that it welcomes the opposition, as long as it upholds the principle of the Chinese constitution and the Hong Kong constitution, which is called the Basic Law. They are happy about it. And of course, they didn’t break the law during the social unrest of 2019, so that’s basically the red line. “
Anticipating a drop in turnout, Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said preemptively that this would suggest voters are happy with their government, but elsewhere Hong Kong officials have become sensitive to the slightest criticism. They recently warned both the Wall Street Journal and the UK’s Sunday Times that they could be found guilty of inciting articles criticizing the upcoming poll.
Bread and butter problems
Despite the bad press, Lam and his government may still have something to gain from an uneventful vote, said Tai Wei Lim, an associate researcher at the East Asia Institute at the National University of Singapore.
Lam can show Beijing that the city is back to normal while wooing the people of Hong Kong on issues beyond democracy, he said, like crippling rents and deep inequalities in wealth.
“From the point of view of the Hong Kong authorities and the central government, from the point of view of Beijing, the economic problems of bread and butter can win the hearts and minds of the people, including the problems of housing and public infrastructure. for commerce and commerce, ”Lim said via email.
“Thus, they hope to have more political support from the patriotic candidates (patriotism by their criteria) to work with technocrats / bureaucrats in government service to build these objects.”
Hong Kong’s semi-democratic legislature has operated unopposed since November 2020, when 15 pro-democracy legislatures resigned en masse after the government dismissed several of their colleagues for their political views. Their absence has allowed the government to push forward large construction projects like a controversial island building development dubbed Lantau Tomorrow Vision to create more space for housing.
Many opposition politicians are now in jail awaiting trial after helping organize an unofficial primary election for pro-democracy candidates in November 2019. The primary election has become a major embarrassment for the government Hong Kong after drawing a record turnout of 600,000 voters, a sign that the city of 7.4 million still supported democracy even after mass protests failed to bring about change.
Opposition lawmakers and election organizers were among 55 people arrested in an unprecedented mass arrest on January 6 this year, and 47 members of the group have been charged with conspiracy to commit acts of subversion. The majority remain in custody due to continuing delays in trials, but substantive arguments are expected to begin early next year, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Holding an election under such conditions is little more than a masquerade, said Johnny Patterson, co-founder and political director of UK-based Hong Kong Watch, as the opposition was silenced in favor. pro-Beijing candidates.
“These elections are a total sham. Earlier this year, the National Security Police rounded up the entire pro-democracy camp and placed them under arrest for crimes against national security, making any meaningful opposition illegal. More recently, the police threatened voters that boycotting the elections could now be a crime, ”he said.
“The whole process shows how much the political situation has deteriorated.”