By James Moules
PRO-BEIJING parties took almost every seat in Hong Kong’s legislature in Sunday’s controversial election – the first of its kind since sweeping electoral reforms by the mainland were imposed on the region.
In March 2021, Beijing introduced a ‘patriots only’ system for elections in Hong Kong, a move which critics say stifles Hong Kong’s political freedoms in a further crackdown on the region’s autonomy.
This system meant the number of officials directly elected by the people was reduced from 35 to 20.
At the same time, the overall number of lawmakers was increased from 70 to 90 – while all candidates had to be vetted by a Beijing-controlled committee.
Ahead of the poll, numerous pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested or forced into exile.
Turnout at the election hit an all time low of 30.2 per cent.
Sunday’s election was met with widespread criticism from international observers, with many commenting that the freedoms guaranteed to the region were under attack.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the Five Eyes nations said: “We, the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State, noting the outcome of the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, express our grave concern over the erosion of democratic elements of the Special Administrative Region’s electoral system.
“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed.”
UK Labour’s Catherine West, Shadow Minister for Asia, told Redaction Report: “Hongkongers should have the right to their freedoms and full and fair elections. Instead this election has seen the steady erosion of long promised freedoms for the people of Hong Kong.
“The UK government must continue to be robust in the defence of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and ensure the Chinese government lives up to its obligations to the people of Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the new election system, saying: “You asked why so few candidates who are not from the pro-establishment camp got elected.
“How can I answer this question? There was only one objective behind the approved electoral system – to ensure patriots administer Hong Kong.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the change in electoral system a “necessary step to ensure the full and faithful implementation of the policy of One Country, Two Systems, the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, and the development of democracy in Hong Kong on the right track.”
But in response to the new system, pro-democracy activists such as Nathan Law endorsed a boycott of the election.
He tweeted: “The boycott from Hong Kong people shows there’s no mandate to this legislature. Beijing is unhappy.”
The election came following extensive protests throughout the region that were sparked in 2019 by a proposed bill that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.
Although the bill was later withdrawn, the demonstrations continued as part of the wider pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
A National Security Law was introduced in 2020 – which numerous pro-democracy figures argue brought in a sweeping clampdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong.
The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities argue the law is necessary to maintain order in the territory.
But since then dozens of pro-democracy figures have been arrested and faced trial and Amnesty International announced the closure its offices in Hong Kong citing pressure from the National Security Law.
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