Hong Kong: low turnout without opposition, locked by Beijing

It was an unopposed ballot. Hong Kong people largely shunned the ballot box on Sunday, December 19, for the renewal of their city’s legislative council. This election was held under a new process imposed by Beijing, which drastically reduced the number of seats filled by universal suffrage and reserved the right to be a candidate for “Patriots” loyal to China.

At 9:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. in Paris), one hour before the end of the ballot, only 29.3% of those registered had voted to designate the twenty members elected by universal suffrage out of the ninety in the Legislative Council. (LegCo). The remaining seventy members are chosen by several committees made up of political elites acquired in the Chinese regime.

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The final turnout, which had still not been made public more than three hours after the polls closed, could be the lowest since the handover of Hong Kong to China by the United Kingdom in 1997. Previously ballot, in 2016, the turnout was 58.3%. The LegCo then had seventy members, half of whom were nominated directly by the voters.

An opposition thermometer

This year, to be allowed to run for a seat, each of the 153 candidates had to give pledges of political loyalty to China and to “Patriotism”. As a result, democracy activists have been prevented from running or have renounced when they are not in prison or on the run abroad.

Several of them who live in exile had called for a boycott of the ballot box. People excluded from the poll “Are these traitors who would not have acted for the general good of Hong Kong”, launched Sunday the number two government of this territory, John Lee.

The turnout, a thermometer for Hong Kongers’ adherence to the new electoral system, was therefore the only real unknown. It is legal in Hong Kong to abstain or to vote blank or null. On the other hand, to encourage these practices constitutes since this year a criminal offense, for which ten people were arrested. The new rules were imposed by Beijing as part of Hong Kong’s takeover after the massive democracy protests of 2019.

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The government published advertising pages in newspapers, distributed leaflets in mailboxes and sent massive text messages to encourage Hong Kong people to vote. Public transport was free on Sunday.

The low turnout is “Extremely embarrassing” for the government, said Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Most of the voters defending democracy have decided to abstain, to express their disapproval”, he declared to the AFP.

Eradicate “anti-Chinese” elements

Ahead of the poll, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said low turnout would not “Would like to say nothing”. “When the government does things right and its credibility is strong, voter turnout is lower because people don’t really feel the need to choose new representatives.”, she had assured in the Chinese state media.

Recent independent polls locate M’s popularityme Lam around 36%. While going to vote on Sunday, the head of the executive was arrested by three activists from a party in favor of democracy who demanded a “True universal suffrage”.

LegCo is the body responsible for passing laws in the former British colony of 7.5 million people, whose legal system remains separate from that of mainland China. Even if the majority of Council seats were still given to established figures in Beijing, a minority of opponents was once tolerated there, which made it a place of often very heated debate. The new rules imposed by Beijing put an end to this tradition.

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More than ten people elected after the previous elections in 2016 are currently in prison under a draconian law on “National security” imposed by Beijing last year, and three fled abroad.

Beijing claims that this electoral system “Improved” will eradicate the elements “Anti-Chinese” and to ensure that the LegCo will adopt the new laws more quickly. “People don’t want to vote for a recording chamber and then pretend everything is fine”, tweeted on Sunday Nathan Law, a former LegCo member who lives in exile in London. “This is a bogus election and the worst regressions in our electoral system”, added another opponent, Brian Leung, a refugee in the United States.

The World with AFP

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Hong Kong: low turnout without opposition, locked by Beijing

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