Beijing worried by the spectre of low turnout in Hong Kong’s upcoming election
Elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) are set for next Sunday. Regime media criticise pollsters who expect a low turnout. With most of their leaders in prison, on trial or in self-exile, pro-democracy groups are de facto excluded from the vote. Catholic media magnate Jimmy Lai Another gets another 13 months in prison.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – As Hong Kong’s legislative elections are set to take place next Sunday, low turnout looms large, a worrisome prospect for local authorities and the central government.
Beijing wants only “patriotic” lawmakers, i.e., loyal to the Communist Party of China, to sit in the next Legislative Council (LegCo).
The current legislature was extended more than a year ago after the election was postponed.
Pro-democracy groups have largely given up on the vote. The Election Committee authorised only 11 out of 153 candidates not openly affiliated with pro-Beijing groups.
Under a new controversial election law, only 20 of the 90 LegCo members will be elected by popular vote. Some 40 will be appointed by the pro-Beijing Election Committee, whilst 30 will be chosen indirectly by pro-government trade-based functional constituencies.
For critics inside and outside Hong Kong, the reform undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy, which was supposed to last until 2047 after the territory was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
The authorities want a high turnout to legitimise their reform, but Chief Executive Carrie Lam is playing down the issue.
In her view, a low turnout could very well mean that citizens are "satisfied" with the government and do not feel the need to "choose different lawmakers" to check the government’s work.
Nevertheless, Lam announced that public transportation will be free on election day, a clear move to get people to vote.
Local authorities are so worried about the turnout that they view calls for a boycott or spoiled ballots as illegal.
And worried they should be. The latest survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) shows that 36 per cent of respondents might not vote, a 3 per cent increase over two weeks ago. Between 2004 and 2016, turnout consistently exceeded 80 per cent.
For its pains, PORI has come under fire from pro-regime media, which accuse the think tank of trying to “influence” and “deceive” voters.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s main pro-democracy leaders are either in jail, under investigation or in self-exile.
In the latest court case, yesterday eight pro-democracy leaders were given a 14-month sentence for participating and inciting others to participate in last year’s 4 June vigil to mark the Tiananmen massacre.
In 2020, police banned the traditional pro-democracy rally, ostensibly to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other defendants, Lai and Lee are already in prison convicted on other charges and are waiting to be tried for crimes under the draconian national security law imposed by Beijing to crack down on the pro-democracy movement.