Hong Kong, Dec. 11 (Reuters) – Opposition Democrats were banned from the ballot in Hong Kong’s “patriots-only” district election amid a national security crisis. An undemocratic poll.
The sharp decline in voter turnout since the last 2019 election comes after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law that was used to curb dissent and overhauled the electoral system to shut out Democrats and other liberals.
“You can see that everyone is starting to feel that the election has no meaning,” said Lemon Wong, one of the remaining Democrats in local politics.
“Even pro-establishment supporters are asking themselves why they should vote because it’s the same.”
Earlier in 1999, the voter turnout was 35.8%. In an election four years ago during Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy protests, a 71% turnout gave the pro-democracy camp a landslide victory in a hotly contested poll.
For this election, directly elected seats have been reduced by nearly 80%, while all candidates must undergo a national security background check and receive nominations from two pro-government groups.
At least three pro-democracy and non-establishment groups, including moderates and even some pro-Beijing figures, failed to meet those thresholds.
The failure of the unprecedented electronic voting system caused some disruption and the eventual switch to manual voting, with voting hours extended by 90 minutes to midnight.
The Election Commission said that the extension has no relation with the polling rate.
More than 10,000 policemen were mobilized and security was strengthened. At least six people were arrested for crimes including posting online to cast invalid votes or inciting others to disrupt the election, according to reports from the police and the city’s anti-corruption commission.
Three members of “social democratic parties” were among those arrested after they planned to protest against the “birdcage election” and what they described as a “great leap backwards” for electoral and democratic rights.
The three were arrested on suspicion of trying to “incite others” to disrupt voting, police said in a statement.
Hong Kong President John Lee has sought to rally public support for the election in recent weeks, again defending their legitimacy as a need to preserve stability in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule from the British in 1997.
“The last piece of the puzzle is for us to implement the policies of the patriots who govern Hong Kong,” Lee said after the vote. He also said that the 2019 elections were used to sabotage the regime and endanger national security.
While some Western governments have criticized Hong Kong’s authoritarian turn under the national security law, China says it has brought stability to the financial center after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Report by Edward Cho, Dorothy Kam, Jesse Pong and James Pomfret; By James Pomfret; Editing by Sonali Pal
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