Exclusion of Pro-Democracy Candidates in Hong Kong's First District Council Election Under New System

Hong Kong held its first “patriots only” “patriots rule Hong Kong” district council election on Sunday (December 10). This move is a further marginalization of Hong Kong’s previously popular city since Beijing implemented the national security law to suppress Hong Kong. opposition figures.

Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Lee Ka-chiu said when he went to the polling station to vote on Sunday morning that the district councilors selected in the first district council election after improving the regional governance system were in the overall interests of Hong Kong.

He said, “These district councilors are patriots. I believe they are competent.” He said in an interview on Wednesday that in addition to “diligence” and “enthusiasm”, the standards for district councilors are to stop engaging in “noise politics.”

The pro-China government has been seeking to boost turnout as some observers believe large numbers of people will choose not to vote, a stark contrast to the 2019 district council elections that took place amid massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. , the election turnout at that time hit a record high of 71%, and the democratic camp achieved an overwhelming victory.

In July this year, the Hong Kong Legislative Council passed the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2023 on the third reading, reducing the number of directly elected district council seats to only 20%.

All candidates must now undergo national security background checks and be nominated by pro-government committees, effectively excluding pro-democracy candidates, including moderates and even some who are pro-Beijing, changes that further weaken the Hong Kong’s electoral freedom.

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While some Western governments believe Hong Kong’s national security law is being used to suppress dissent, China says it will bring stability to the city after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Tsang Kwok-wai warned that there is a risk of “anti-China” interference in this election trying to disrupt the voting. Therefore, 12,000 police officers were deployed across Hong Kong on election day to prepare for the election.

Ivy Sze, a 37-year-old Hong Kong voter, said the restructuring had not shaken her confidence in the electoral system, although she said she felt there were fewer voters in the morning than in previous elections.

Timothy Cheung, a 21-year-old university student, said he decided not to vote after Hong Kong’s electoral system was reformed, and said his peers also planned to abstain. Referring to the pro-government background of the candidates, he said: “It doesn’t matter if I vote. All the candidates lean towards the same side.”

Because only 88 of the 470 district council seats were directly elected, critics said the election was not democratic.

Democratic district councilor Chung Lai-him, who decided not to run this time, said: “I would rather choose to be myself and stick to my original values ​​and beliefs.” He had previously said that institutional democracy would not be realized in the short term.

Chan Ka-lok, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University and a former pro-democracy legislator, said, “It is difficult to talk about democracy or democratization in Hong Kong today.” He described the election as a “retrogression” for democracy. He said, ” What they’re doing now is setting up what’s called a patriot-only governance structure.”

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Li Biyi, a pro-China district council candidate in Wan Chai District, Hong Kong Island, said, “You can see that we participate in the campaign every day and try our best to get every vote,” she said, “So this is a real election election.”

(This article is based on reports from Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press.)