Hong Kong’s leader on Monday hailed the outcome of a “patriots only” legislature election that saw a record low voter turnout and government loyalists sweep every seat, AFP reports:
Hong Kong and Chinese officials had called on residents to embrace their new political system. But most Hong Kongers stayed away from polling stations, taking advantage of free public transport for the day to fill shopping malls, hiking trails and beaches. …Turnout at the last legislature polls in 2016 was 58 percent, while the 2019 district council elections, when pro-democracy figures won a landslide, saw a record 71 percent.
Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at Hong Kong’s Baptist University, described Sunday’s turnout as “hugely embarrassing” for the government.
The poll was “not a typical free and fair election [but] a selection process, thanks to an electoral overhaul with no meaningful participation from the opposition (not least because many are in jail),” pro-democracy activist and former legislator
This was the first vote to take place after two consequential new measures — part of Beijing tightening grip — that effectively eliminate the checks and balances of government, added Law, predicting the low turnout:
- The first was Beijing’s imposition of a national security law, which was introduced last year. The law has crumpled civil society and criminalized free speech. It forced the closure of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, the disbanding of the largest independent trade union and the banning of the annual vigil for Tiananmen Square victims. Recently a protester was sentenced to more than five years in jail for chanting political slogans; no violence was involved.
- The second was an electoral reform this year that lowered the proportion of directly elected seats in the legislature from around half to less than a quarter and introduced a vetting mechanism for candidates to ensure they qualify as “patriots” — a vague qualification that serves to eliminate voices critical of China.
“The tension between the authorities and the people will remain in place for a long time while the legislators won’t be mediators because they have to toe Beijing’s line,” Chung Kim-wah, from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, told AFP.
The author of a new book – Freedom: How We Lose It and How We Fight Back – discussed at the National Endowment for Democracy (above), Law had called on voters to boycott the poll (see below).