Pro-Beijing candidates sweep Hong Kong ‘patriots’-only elections

Pro-Beijing candidates will occupy nearly every seat in Hong Kong’s new legislature, after party loyalists swept the first elections under a revamp by Beijing ensuring that only “patriots” could run for office.

The elections were marred by record low voter turnout that observers say signal a general political apathy in the city, 18 months since authorities began a crackdown on political dissent in the name of national security.

Enigste 30% of Hong Kong’s 4.4 million eligible voters went to the polls, almost half of the number who voted in the last legislative elections in 2016. Lower-level district council elections in 2019 saw 71% turnout. The record low turnout came despite pro-Beijing candidates making urgent pleas for more people to vote throughout the polling day.

Tik Chi-Yuen, of the self-described centrist Third Side Party, became the only candidate who is not pro-establishment to be elected.

Tik, who quit the Democratic Party in 2015 to co-found his own party, has argued that the city’s social workers should be excluded from the mandatory oaths of allegiances to the government which have been imposed on the city’s civil servants and district councillors since Beijing’s implementation of the national security law.

The candidate described himself as “moderate and rational” in an interview with Chinese state-backed media.

Other moderate and non-establishment candidates, including former members of the democratic camp Mandy Tam and Frederick Fung, lost to their pro-Beijing counterparts in the 20 seats that are directly elected by the public.

“It’s not easy to push people (om te stem). I think they are feeling indifferent in the present situation,” Fung told Reuters.

Almal 13 candidates fielded by the DAB and the Federation for Trade Unions, the city’s largest pro-Beijing groups, won seats.

Chief executive Carrie Lam, who was installed by Beijing, said she looked forward to having “pragmatic and rational interactions” with the new legislature to resolve the city’s “deep-seated problems” at a press conference following the election results on Monday.

Oor 12,000 police officers were deployed to ensure a “smooth process” on Sunday, as well as 40,000 government workers.

Starry Lee, head of the city’s largest pro-Beijing party the DAB, said the low voter turnout was not a sign of general discontent with the new system. “I do not believe this (low turnout) is directly related to citizens not agreeing with this electoral system. I believe it needs some time for people to get adapted to this system,” she told reporters on Sunday.

Many of the entrances to the 630 polling stations across the city were empty throughout the day. The scenes were in stark contrast to Hong Kong’s lower-level district councils in 2019,when pro-democracy candidates won all but one of the councils.

Elders, the city was bustling as Hongkongers took advantage of free public transport rides designed to boost voter turnout to instead visit theme parks and go hiking.

Some overseas democrats, like Sunny Cheung, who moved to the United States to escape prosecution under the national security law, said most of Hong Kong had “consciously boycotted the election to express their discontent to the world.”

The previous record low for a legislative election held after the city’s 1997 return from British to Chinese rule was 43.6% in 2000. In 2019, the last major citywide election in Hong Kong for district councils seats, the turnout rate was 71% with around 90% van die 452 seats won by democrats.

Lev Nachman, research fellow at the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese studies, told the Guardian that the low turnout was a sign of public distrust at the new electoral process.

“After 2019, I think this low turnout is a good de facto referendum in how Hongkongers now see their electoral systemas something no longer democratic and no longer worth trying to voice their choice," hy het gesê.

Beijing published a white paper titled “Hong Kong: Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems,” on Monday to “explain democracy in Hong Kong.” The publication doubled down on Beijing’s claims that Hong Kong’s new “patriots-only” electoral system was crucial for the administration of One Country, Two Systems.

Lam welcomed the white paper at a press conference following the election results on Monday. In response to reporters’ questions, she said the government has begun initial plans to implement local national security laws to complement Beijing’s sweeping legislation implemented last summer.

The leader departs for an annual three-day trip to Beijing on Monday, to report to central authorities on the city’s latest economic, social and political situation.

Reuters contributed to this report

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