Voters choose new voters in Hong Kong under pro-Beijing laws

Voters choose new voters in Hong Kong under pro-Beijing laws

Hong Kong Hong Kong residents voted for members of the election commission that will choose the city’s leader in the first election on Sunday after reforms aimed at ensuring the loyalty of candidates to Beijing.

The Election Commission will select 40 of the city’s 90 deputies to the city legislature during the elections in December, as well as elect the Hong Kong leader during the elections in March next year.

In May, the legislature amended Hong Kong’s election laws to ensure that only “patriots” – people loyal to China and the semi-autonomous region – would rule the city. It also expanded the committee to 1,500 members, from 1,200, and reduced the number of direct voters for committee seats from about 246,000 to less than 8,000.

The restructured electoral process ensures that the vast majority of the election commission are largely pro-Beijing candidates, who are likely to choose a chief executive and nearly half of lawmakers allied with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

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“Today’s Election Commission elections are very meaningful because they are the first elections to be held after we have improved the electoral system to ensure that only patriots can take power,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said. It is not yet known if Lam will seek re-election in March.

The changes are part of a widespread crackdown on civil society in Hong Kong in the wake of mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. The authorities tightened their control over the city through a sweeping national security law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party that effectively criminalizes opposition to the government. The law and other changes forced many civic organizations to dissolve or arrest their leaders.

Also on Sunday, Hong Kong’s largest opposition trade union – the Confederation of Trade Unions of Hong Kong – said it would end concerns for the safety of its members. The union is the latest organization to be dissolved after the dissolution of the teachers’ union and the assembly organization for the Civil Front for Human Rights last month.

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Critics say the changes restrict freedoms that Hong Kong promised it could maintain for 50 years after the territory was handed over in 1997 to China from colonial Britain.

The nearly 4,900 voters representing different professions and industries who went to the polls on Sunday with a heavy police presence will choose from just 412 candidates for the 364 election commission seats. The other seats were undisputed or occupied by persons chosen based on their titles.

“This election allows us to choose strong patriots who love our country and Hong Kong to rule Hong Kong, and who demonstrate their strength in the administration and politics of Hong Kong,” said Armstrong Lee, a candidate representing the welfare sector.

Wang Tingting, a voter from the financial sector, said she would vote for candidates who are “patriots who love our country and love Hong Kong.”

“That’s the most important,” she said. “Secondly, I will vote for those who are able, because ability is the most important in this position.”

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Lam said the new election commission will be more widely represented as it includes more people’s organizations and associations representing Hong Kong who live and work in mainland China.

Elections took place on Sunday in five polling stations heavily surrounded by police. The local South China Morning Post reported earlier that 6,000 police officers would be deployed to guard polling stations, outnumbering voters.

Results are expected on Sunday night.

Four activists from the League of Social Democrats staged a small protest near the polling station in the Wan Chai district. They put up signs criticizing the “small district elections” as a pretense to represent public opinion.

The four were stopped and searched by the police.

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Zen Soo reported from Singapore. Associated Press video reporters Matthew Cheng and Janice Low contributed to this report.

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