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With Opposition Sidelined, Pro-Beijing Candidates Sweep Hong Kong Elections

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With Opposition Sidelined, Pro-Beijing Candidates Sweep Hong Kong Elections

The first election since Hong Kong’s electoral overhaul was marked by a dismal turnout rate of just 30 percent.

With Opposition Sidelined, Pro-Beijing Candidates Sweep Hong Kong Elections

Members of pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), including Starry Lee Wai-king, fifth from right, clap hands during a press conference after winning 19 seats in the Legislative election in Hong Kong, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

Candidates loyal to China’s Communist Party won a landslide victory in Hong Kong’s legislative elections after pro-democracy activists were imprisoned and authorities received the power to exclude those deemed inappropriate for office.

Candidates loyal to Beijing won a majority of the seats in Sunday’s election after the laws were changed to ensure that only pro-Beijing “patriots” could run the city.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said during a news conference Monday she was “satisfied” with the election despite a 30.2 percent voter turnout — the lowest since the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997.

She said that the number of registered voters reached 92.5 percent, a record high compared to the 2012 and 2016 elections, when around 70 percent of voters had registered.

“For registered voters, deciding whether they want to exercise their voting rights in a particular election is entirely a matter for themselves,” she said.

“In this election, 1.35 million voters cast their votes. They did not just return candidates of their choice to LegCo, and I think it was also because of their support for the improved electoral system,” said Lam, referring to the city’s Legislative Council.

Under the new laws, the number of directly elected lawmakers was reduced from 35 to 20, even as the legislature was expanded from 70 to 90 seats. Most of the lawmakers were appointed by largely pro-Beijing bodies, ensuring that they make up the majority of the legislature.

All candidates were also vetted by a largely pro-Beijing committee before they could be nominated.

The elections were originally scheduled to be held in September 2020 before being postponed for more than a year by the Hong Kong government. The delay was ostensibly due to COVID-19 concerns, but critics hold that Beijing was spooked by the possibility of pro-democracy parties riding a wave of popular support to a majority of seats in the Legislative Council. Instead, the new electoral system, which essentially guarantees a majority for pro-Beijing candidates, was rolled out before the delayed polls took place.

Lam said that even if there was a high turnout based on “poor politics,” such as the political polarization during the period of political strife in 2019, that is “not something we should be glad to have.”

Starry Lee, an elected pro-Beijing legislative council candidate from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong party, said the 30 percent turnout was within “general public expectation.”

“As I have mentioned before, this is a new system, this is a system that we call patriots administrating Hong Kong,” Lee said.

“This is a different one from the previous one, therefore you cannot compare directly. And I believe that with the new system, people need time to get used to that.”

The opposition camp has criticized the elections, with the largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, fielding no candidates for the first time since the 1997 handover.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said there were “multiple reasons” for the decline in voter turnout.

“It is not only the impact of the pandemic, but also the disruption and sabotage of anti-China elements in Hong Kong and external forces,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

Some overseas pro-democracy activists, including London-based Nathan Law, urged a boycott of the vote, saying the elections were undemocratic. Under the new election laws, incitement to boycott the voting or to cast invalid votes could be punished by up to three years in jail and a 200,000 Hong Kong dollar ($26,500) fine.

In a joint statement released by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the foreign ministers of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States expressed “grave concern” over the erosion of democratic elements of Hong Kong’s electoral system and growing restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.

“Protecting space for peaceful alternative views is the most effective way to ensure the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong,” they said.

Lam said she expects that working with the 90 legislators will be “very exciting” because they have different opinions on many social issues.

Lam was to travel to Beijing later Monday on a duty-reporting trip, which she says is to give a full account to Beijing of the latest political and economic situation in Hong Kong.

“I expect to cover a wide range of issues on this particular duty visit because through two very decisive acts of the central authorities, Hong Kong is now back on the right track of ‘one country, two systems,’” she said.