January 25, 2022
Asia

Hong Kong: Why the Legco elections are so controversial

bbc– Hong Kong is holding its first legislative council election since China introduced sweeping changes that have altered the city’s political landscape.

The government says the revamped electoral system will ensure only “patriots” will be allowed to stand for election and eventually hold positions of political power.

However, critics say it has weakened the city’s democratic voice, eradicating whatever opposition is left.

How is Hong Kong run?

Hong Kong used to be under British control, but was handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle.

This means that the city has certain democratic freedoms which no other part of mainland China has.

This includes the right to elect its own mini-parliament, the Legislative Council (LegCo).

The LegCo is a powerful body that not only makes and amends Hong Kong’s laws, but also approves budgets and taxes, endorses the appointments of top judges, and can impeach Hong Kong’s head of government, the Chief Executive.

Its members usually serve four year terms – though the current term has been extended as elections were postponed by a year due to Covid.

They were previously elected by the public in various geographical constituencies, as well as interest groups.

Read more about how Hong Kong is run

What has China done?

In March, Beijing passed a “patriots governing Hong Kong” resolution that fundamentally altered LegCo.

The most important change was that it drastically shrank the proportion of lawmakers who can be directly voted in by the people – from 50% to 22%.

All candidates must now be vetted by a separate screening committee – which has made it easier to bar anyone deemed as being critical of Beijing.

The ruling also expanded and gave more powers to the Election Committee – a separate group that heavily skews pro-Beijing. Usually their main role is to choose the Chief Executive, but now, for the first time in years, they also have seats in LegCo.

The move is a continuation of China’s plan to tighten control over Hong Kong and push for loyalty from all levels of power, following 2019’s huge pro-democracy protests.

Beijing has also put in place a controversial national security law which has made it easier to punish pro-democracy demonstrators, while Hong Kong authorities have jailed dozens of activists in recent months.

  • What is China’s ‘patriot’ plan for Hong Kong?
  • China’s national security law for Hong Kong

How will this year’s LegCo election work?

There are now 90 seats up for election.

Only 20 of those will be directly elected by the public – these are the Geographical Constituency seats.

Another 40 seats – nearly half of those available – will be filled by the Election Committee.

The remaining 30 LegCo seats will be elected by the Functional Constituencies – groups representing special interests such as business, trade, and rural villages. They historically also lean pro-Beijing.

How does this change Hong Kong’s political landscape?

Critics say Hong Kong’s democratic processes and institutions have been eroded, pointing to how many pro-democracy figures are now shut out from LegCo.

A number of them – including high-profile activist Joshua Wong who is currently in jail- have been disqualified from standing in this year’s election because they were deemed as advocating for Hong Kong’s independence from China or objected to the national security law.

The chair of the biggest opposition party Lo Kin-hei said it was “impossible” for the party to “pave a way” for candidates, pointing to the difficulties and pressures they faced.

Other opposition figures have either quit or are in self-exile.

The numbers bear this out – this year’s LegCo election will see only three candidates who identify as being pro-democracy. This is in stark contrast to the previous election which saw the pro-democracy camp win 29 seats.

Hong Kong authorities have denied the changes stifle democracy and say they are necessary to ensure patriotism to China.

But not many Hongkongers are convinced, and there’s been a marked drop in public enthusiasm for the election.

A recent surve found that only half of those surveyed were inclined to vote – the lowest levels since 1991.

It also found that public satisfaction in the political situation in Hong Kong was the lowest in 10 years.

Some activists living overseas have called on Hongkongers to cast blank votes, as a form of protest.

While casting a blank vote is not illegal, it’s against the national security law to incite others to do so, or to boycott an election.

Several people have been arrested under this charge, some of whom had shared a Facebook post advocating for blank votes.

 

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