‘Chinese-style’ poll deprived H.K. residents from expressing their will

There is no legitimacy at all to a “Chinese-style” election, where only candidates who pledge loyalty to the authorities can run for office. The historically low voter turnout is a clear indication of this.

Pro-Beijing candidates overwhelmingly won the election for the 90-seat Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s legislative body, winning nearly every seat. Only one candidate who is not from the pro-Beijing camp was elected.

The result was in line with prior expectations. Pro-democracy elements who are critical of Beijing were not allowed to run for office. This is because the government in China changed the electoral system to exclude pro-democracy elements while the election, originally scheduled for September 2020, was postponed, with the reason given that it was a novel coronavirus infection prevention measure.

Under the new system, anyone who seeks candidacy for an election is examined in advance to determine whether they are “patriots” who support the governance by the Communist Party of China. A provision was also added that prospective candidates who do not pledge loyalty to the Hong Kong government will be disqualified from running for office.

The number of overall Legislative Council seats decided by direct election has been reduced from 50% in the previous election in 2016 to somewhat less than 30%, increasing the portion of indirectly determined seats that can more likely reflect the will of the authorities.

Some of the 153 candidates who ran in the latest election were self-proclaimed pro-democracy elements or vehemently emphasized that they were not part of the pro-Beijing camp, but in fact the authorities reportedly lobbied behind the scenes for them to run in order to give the impression of a “fair democratic election.”

The voter turnout was 30.2%, far lower than the 58% in the previous Legislative Council election, and the lowest ever recorded. Voters were seemingly apathetic about an election in name only.

When members of the pro-democracy camp held a certain number of seats in the council, the legislature played a role in checking the Hong Kong government such as by rejecting bills. But from now on, it will likely become a rubber stamp for the authorities, just like China’s National People’s Congress.

In response to the rise of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, China enacted a national security law that strictly regulates freedom of speech and assembly, and forced pro-democracy groups to disband.

The latest election has also completed the Chinafication of the Hong Kong legislature, further watering down the “one country, two systems” principle that guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.

China has explained the series of steps it has taken as being for “the long-term stability and prosperity” of Hong Kong.

But Hong Kong’s status as an international financial hub was certainly founded on the vitality of people and the rule of law based on freedom and democracy. A society that fears the watchful eye of the authorities is unlikely to see businesses develop nor increased investment from the West.

Will Hong Kong’s Chinafication undermine the benefits for China as a result? It is important that Japan, the United States and European countries continue to demonstrate their stance that they will not tolerate China’s actions.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 21, 2021.