The Group of Seven and the European Union on Monday decried the “erosion” of democracy in Hong Kong, as the territory’s chief executive hailed an election reserved for the first time to “patriotic” candidates as a success.
Barely 30% of Hong Kong’s population, or 1.3 million out of 4.5 million voters, on Sunday chose their legislature, appointed under a new electoral system imposed by Beijing, which has drastically reduced the number of voters. For patriots only.
This is the lowest turnout since Hong Kong was handed over to China by the United Kingdom in 1997 and even since the first direct election of members of the Legislative Council in 1991.
“Hong Kong is back on the right track, the ‘one country, two systems’ path,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said.
“We cannot copy and paste the system or the so-called democratic rules of Western countries,” she added, arguing that “anti-China” elements are now excluded and political calm has returned.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of the G7 countries (France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom), for their part, expressed their “deep concern about the erosion of the democratic elements of the electoral system.”
They also “firmly” reiterated their call to China to “respect Hong Kong’s fundamental rights and freedoms.”
For his part, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, estimated in a statement that the vote was “a new stage in the dismantling of the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and called for a ‘high degree of autonomy, as well.'” respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democratic principles and the rule of law “in Hong Kong.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blamed the epidemic for the abstention. He also noted that “anti-Chinese elements are determined to destroy Hong Kong and interfere with outside forces.”
Patriotism and political loyalty
The result of the electoral reform: the local council is made up of government loyalists similar to the legislatures in Beijing.
This year, to be allowed to run for a seat, each of the 153 candidates had to pledge their “patriotism” and political loyalty to China.
As a result, democracy activists have been barred from running or abandoned when not in prison or on the run abroad.
Many of them living in exile had called for a boycott of the polls.
The turnout rate, a thermometer of Hong Kong residents’ commitment to the new electoral system, was therefore particularly expected.
Abstaining from voting, voting in blank or void remains legal in Hong Kong. On the other hand, the encouragement of these practices constitutes, since the current year, a criminal offense for which 10 people have been arrested.
Beijing imposed the new rules as part of the takeover of Hong Kong after mass protests in 2019.
Under British or Chinese sovereignty, the region was not known to be fully democratic, which was the source of significant protests on several occasions.
Express your disapproval
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the government had advertised pages in newspapers, handed out leaflets in mailboxes and sent out huge text messages to encourage Hong Kong residents to vote. Public transportation was free on Sunday.
The low turnout is “very embarrassing” for the government, said Kenneth Chan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Most of the voters who defend democracy decided to abstain from voting to express their disapproval,” he told AFP.
The LegCo, made up of 90 legislators, 20 of whom are now elected by universal suffrage, is the assembly responsible for passing laws in the former British colony of 7.5 million people, whose legal system remains different from that. on mainland China.
Although the majority of council seats were still assigned to prominent figures in Beijing, a minority of dissidents were tolerated there. This made it a place for lively discussions often, which they wouldn’t otherwise be.
“The new legislature, now under full national control, will effectively act as a gatekeeper of national security and unity,” wrote Lao Siu Kai, deputy head of the Hong Kong Principal Think Tank. China daily.
Dozens of pro-democracy opposition figures – a number of whom were elected in the previous elections in 2016, have been disqualified, are currently in prison under Beijing’s strict “national security” law in 2020 or have fled abroad.
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