Hong Kong pushes opposition to run in pre-established election

HONG KONG – As for the pitfalls of a healthy democracy, the upcoming parliamentary elections in Hong Kong have them all. Hundreds of po...


HONG KONG – As for the pitfalls of a healthy democracy, the upcoming parliamentary elections in Hong Kong have them all.

Hundreds of politicians distribute leaflets in the tropical heat. Posters remind residents of the voter registration deadlines. In a preliminary ballot on Sunday, the government touted a record turnout of 90%.

All the ingredients are there, except one: all uncertainty about the result.

The legislative elections, scheduled for December, are the first since the Chinese government ordered sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure that his favorite candidates win. Some opposition groups have pledged to boycott in protest, and the most important of them, the Democratic Party, will decide this weekend whether to follow or not.

But Hong Kong officials have warned that a boycott could violate the city’s broad national security law. After all, an election doesn’t look good if the opposition doesn’t show up.

Welcome to the elections in Hong Kong now: not so much democracy exercises as its vigorous execution.

“They want to continue to give the illusion that they are respecting the Basic Law,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of Chinese politics at the Baptist University of Hong Kong. The law is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which promises the city, a former British colony, certain political rights under Chinese rule. “This is the best way to legitimize their rule.”

Elections in Hong Kong have never been entirely free, with rules favoring Beijing’s allies even before this spring’s overhaul. Even so, the opposition had long managed to gain at least some influence over government policy, and polls had consistently shown it had the majority of public support. At the end of 2019, months of fierce anti-government protests helped fuel an unprecedented overwhelming victory for pro-democracy candidates in local elections.

The Chinese Communist Party was determined not to see a repeat. After imposing the security law last summer to crush protests, she quickly followed with electoral changes that only allowed government-approved “patriots” to take office. In addition, the general public will now be allowed to choose only 20 of the 90 lawmakers. Most of the rest will be chosen by voters chosen last Sunday – all but one aligned with the authorities.

Yet the party, determined to preserve Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center, has fervently denied international accusations that it would renege on commitments it made when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997. Hence the determination of those responsible to make the elections credible. as possible – even if that requires intimidating the opposition to come forward.

A senior official has suggested that boycotting the elections would be a declaration of rebellion. Carrie Lam, City Manager, said last month that it would be “strange” for a party not to show up.

“If there is a political party with many members, but it does not discuss or participate in politics, then we may have to question the value of its existence,” she said. told reporters.

The government has also made it illegal to encourage others to vote in protest.

Whatever the Democratic Party’s decision, last Sunday’s preliminary vote has already given a glimpse of what the Hong Kong election might look like in the future.

The purpose of the vote was to form an electoral commission, a group of 1,500 people who, under Beijing’s new rules, will select many lawmakers, as well as Hong Kong’s next top leader. According to the government, the committee is a diverse microcosm of Hong Kong society.

But less than 8,000 residents – 0.1% of the population – were eligible to vote in the electoral committee ballot, all drawn from a list approved by Beijing.

All the candidates had to be selected by a government panel for loyalty. No major opposition group fielded candidates, citing futility given the hand-picked electorate. (Additionally, many opposition leaders have been arrested, are in exile, or have been barred from holding government positions.)

Even the few residents who had a vote had a limited say. Of the 1,500 electoral committee seats, three-quarters were unchallenged or reserved for designated government allies.

None of this stopped officials from declaring the day a model of civic participation. “Hong Kong’s elections have always been known to be fair, open, just, clean and honest, and we are proud of that,” Ms. Lam said before the polls opened.

Sometimes the authorities’ attachment to the veneer of public engagement bordered on the absurd.

The weekend before the Election Commission vote, the Central Liaison Office, Beijing’s official body in Hong Kong, ordered the ranks of the city’s billionaire tycoons to staff street stalls and extol the virtues of the city. new electoral system.

Virtually all of the tycoons held unchallenged or guaranteed appointed seats on the committee, in keeping with Beijing’s tradition of political partnerships with the business elite. But the central government wanted residents to feel like they deserved their jobs, said Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong member of the Supreme Committee of the Chinese Legislative Assembly.

“It was the liaison office that asked us to do this,” Tam said. “Even though we are guaranteed to become members, we still feel that we need to tell residents what our expectations are of ourselves and allow them to better understand us.”

This is how Pansy Ho, the second richest woman in Hong Kong, found herself hawking leaflets one day at 92 degrees. Raymond Kwok, the billionaire president of one of Hong Kong’s biggest developers, only stayed a few minutes, time to be photographed handing out leaflets, before leaving.

Kennedy Wong, a lawyer and member of an advisory body to Beijing, lasted longer – about an hour and a half, he said – at a booth in the working-class neighborhood of North Point. Mr. Wong admitted that the success of the outreach was questionable.

“I did not receive any questions on the street while I was there,” he said, adding that passers-by had either shown signs of support or “walked past us and ignored us”.

On election day, officials boasted a 90 percent turnout. Mrs. Lam noted it “reflected support for the new electoral system”.

But that 90 percent was not calculated out of the total pool of around 8,000 eligible voters; it was the number of voters in the few races contested. He represented 4,380 of the 4,889 voters in this category who voted. There were more police deployed to monitor polling stations – more than 5,000 – as voters.

Yet those who voted said they were unfazed. In an interview as she left the polling station, Chan Nga Yue said she considered the candidates to be representative because “many of them are people we know.”

Even with the few ballots cast, counting proved problematic. The first results were not announced until nine hours after the closing of the polling stations, for a seat for which 82 votes had been cast. Full results were not finalized for another three hours. Officials cited staff errors.

Only one candidate who was not part of the pro-Beijing bloc won a seat. Officials said the victory of Tik Chi-yuen, a self-proclaimed independent, proved that a variety of voices were welcome.

But Mr. Tik’s election was, in part, a fluke: after being tied with two other candidates, he won in a draw.

Every now and then reminders that not everyone was thrilled with the new setup popped up.

A pro-democracy group staged a four-person protest near a polling station, where members were surrounded by dozens of police officers.

Moreover, in the middle of the day, Barnabas Fung, the city’s top election official, admitted that the shrinking electorate had mistakenly led “many unregistered people” to queue at the offices of the city. vote.

“There were people who thought they had a vote,” Fung told reporters. “In the future, we will have to see if there is a way to let everyone know that only registered voters can vote. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Hong Kong pushes opposition to run in pre-established election
Hong Kong pushes opposition to run in pre-established election
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