The Hong Kong Government today celebrates its Parliamentary election a year late, after rigging the process to make a victory for the pro-democracy front impossible. The results of the polls are therefore the least of surprises. Rather, these elections serve to corroborate that Hong Kong represents a historical anomaly – a free, open and modern territory despite being controlled by the most powerful dictatorship in the world – that Chinese authoritarianism has already corrected.
According to the new electoral law, the 4.5 million voters Only 20 of the 90 seats in the Legislative Council will be elected by direct suffrage, a dispute between 153 candidates pre-approved by the Executive as “patriots.” Faced with partiality
evident from the regulations, participation has become the most relevant metric. At 4:30 p.m. local time, eight after the opening of schools, only 21% of citizens had cast their vote, is ten percentage points lower than the 2016 elections, in what is on the way to becoming the electoral appointment with the smallest participation in the modern history of Hong Kong.
The local government fears that this lack of citizen involvement will reveal the weak legitimacy of its political institutions. The head of the Executive Carrie Lam, however, has defended this morning during a press appearance that the low participation denotes the generalized “satisfaction” of the citizens. Since her second year in office, Lam has broken records as the lowest-rated leader in the territory’s history, according to data from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute. His approval rating fell below 20% in 2020.
Curbing the pro-democracy wave
These elections should have been held in September 2020. The authorities of the former British colony, however, cited the risk to public health posed by the pandemic to postpone an appointment in which the opposition seemed headed for unprecedented success.
The pro-democracy forces They had already garnered a historical majority in the municipal elections of November 2019, prevailing in the majority of councils thanks to the impulse of the massive anti-government protests that began in the summer of that year.
The opposition’s plan consisted of presenting a unitary list to the legislative elections and thus maximizing their possibilities of controlling the chamber, which would allow them to block the Executive’s action by rejecting, among other projects, the annual budgets. With this in mind, in the summer of 2020 they organized a primary in which around 600,000 people participated, almost 10% of the population of Hong Kong (7.5 million). It was then that the Government put the brakes on, announcing in July the postponement of the elections.
In May of this year, a new electoral law came into force. This increased the number of seats in the Legislative Council, which went from 70 to 90, but reduced the number elected by direct suffrage: from 35, more than half, to 20, not even a quarter, making it mathematically impossible for pro-democracy forces to achieve a parliamentary majority.
Of the remaining 70, 40 will be elected by the Electoral Committee, the body in charge of appointing the chief executive and under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, while 30 will be distributed among electoral associations also favorable to the interests of the regime. This despite the fact that, as stated in the Basic Law that governs the territory, China promised to grant Hong Kong full universal suffrage, a claim that in 2014 triggered the Umbrella Revolution.
This reform also established that only “true patriots” could hold positions of political responsibility. As a result, the majority of pro-democracy representatives have not even been able to present their candidacy; many are in jail, awaiting trial, exiled or separated from institutions. Throughout today, those who left the territory have launched a campaign on social networks under the hashtag #ReleaseMyCandidate – “Free my candidate” – calling for abstention to delegitimize the results. Hong Kong authorities have already issued international arrest warrants for five of them.
Before the postponement of the elections, China had already accelerated the erosion of the territory’s independence with the imposition of the National Security Law. The Asian giant thus violated the Basic Law and international agreements for the return of sovereignty of 1997, according to which it promised to respect the rights and freedoms prevailing in the former British colony for at least half a century.
This legal framework implemented in Beijing punishes with up to life imprisonment “separatism, terrorism, subversion of the powers of the State and conspiring with foreign forces.” The authorities have used this law to tie the opposition, media and civil society of Hong Kong, once a historical anomaly, now increasingly indistinguishable from the rest of China.