China Elections only for 'patriots' in Hong Kong

Outside of Hong Kong, much attention had never been paid to the district council elections, a kind of neighborhood election, until 2019 when the pro-democracy candidates swept the polls, the same ones who had been championing noisy protests for five months calling for greater freedoms and universal suffrage

China Elections only for 'patriots' in Hong Kong

Outside of Hong Kong, much attention had never been paid to the district council elections, a kind of neighborhood election, until 2019 when the pro-democracy candidates swept the polls, the same ones who had been championing noisy protests for five months calling for greater freedoms and universal suffrage. There was a historic participation, above 70%.

Beijing interpreted the results as a historic challenge to its sovereignty in the former British colony. Therefore, after sweeping the demonstrations from the street, the next step was to change the rules of the electoral system so that only 'patriots' could occupy a seat in the institutions.

This Sunday, Hong Kong had a date with the polls again. As four years ago, elections were due for the 18 district councils that embrace the metropolis. But the only interesting thing, with the pro-democracy parties disqualified after the 2021 electoral reform, was knowing how far the level of disaffection among Hong Kongers reached after the Chinese Government erased a large part of the autonomy that the city enjoyed.

At press time, turnout was the lowest in an election since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the conditions of maintaining a semi-autonomous system for 50 years with the failed 'One country, two systems' experiment. , of which now only the name remains.

The local authorities tried to push people onto the streets, and in the process get them to vote. The museums were free, concerts were held, and there were drone shows in various parts of the city. Even the airline Cathay Pacific offered great discounts on flights so that Hong Kongers living abroad could return. But there was no attraction in elections that were not plural at all.

There is a basic reason why it was impossible to repeat the results of four years ago, when pro-democracy parties took 242 of the 300 available seats: only patriots can now stand for elections in Hong Kong.

This was expressed on Sunday by the head of the local Executive, John Lee. "It is the last piece of the puzzle for us to implement the principles of the 'patriots' who govern Hong Kong," the leader said while voting, adding that the previous 2019 elections were used to "sabotage governance and endanger national security." ".

During election day there were more than 10,000 police officers deployed and some arrests were made. Three politicians from the League of Social Democrats, one of the banned parties, were arrested after they announced their intention to hold a protest in front of a polling station. A couple of days earlier, according to local media, a 77-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of sedition for "a plan to protest the elections."

Hong Kong has never been a fully democratic region. Before the earthquake of the protests, the head of the local Executive was appointed directly by Beijing and only half of the chamber was voted by direct suffrage. But until the electoral reform, critics were tolerated to occupy seats in a plural Parliament in which, although they were never the majority, they could give their opinion and participate in voting on the projects.

According to the 2021 electoral reform, all candidates, in order to run, must pass the filter of a committee chosen by Beijing. That committee has to guarantee that the city is governed by 'patriots'. For this reason, the few opposition leaders who remain in the city - a few are in prison and others in exile - have been left out.

Everything changed after the pro-democracy protests in 2019, which began with peaceful marches against a bill that would allow the extradition of fugitives to mainland China. The protesters managed to get the then chief executive, Carrie Lam, to overturn the law. But it was not enough because those in the streets had already embraced other demands that they were not going to let go of, such as having complete universal suffrage so that the people could also elect the head of the Government.

The pandemic left the streets empty and Beijing took advantage of it to cook up a national security law by which any act of protest, or that the authorities consider an independence or subversive proclamation, can be considered sedition and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. What came next was the arrest of hundreds of activists who led the 2019 protests and the en bloc resignation of all deputies opposed to Beijing, many of whom are being tried for subversion.