Xi Jinping’s ‘democracy’ flops as low turnout mars Hong Kong’s ‘patriotic’ election
Only 30.2 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot. This was the first poll after pro-democracy groups were excluded under reformed election law. Pro-Beijing camp won 89 out of 90 seats with one lonely seat going to a centrist candidate. Catholic diocese expressed concerns over the region’s full democratisation. The central government claims that the election was “representative” and “inclusive”.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Hong Kong saw that lowest turnout in the region’s history, a real flop for Xi Jinping-style democracy.
The poll was the first since Beijing imposed an electoral reform designed to eliminate pro-democracy representatives from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) and favour “patriotic” candidates, i.e., loyal to the Communist Party of China.
Only 30.2 per cent of eligible voters showed up at polling stations, the worst figure since 1995, when the then British colony first elected a local parliament.
The voter turnout was 58.3 per cent in the previous LegCo election in 2016; 71 per cent of voters took part in district council election in November 2019, overwhelmingly backing pro-democracy candidates in the wake of the anti-establishment protests that had broken out a few months earlier.
Out of 90 seats up for grabs yesterday, 89 went to pro-Beijing exponents, including Rev Canon Peter Koon Ho-ming, general secretary of the local Anglican Church. The only elected LegCo member not formally aligned with the establishment is centrist candidate Tik Chi-yuen.
The election was scheduled to take place more than a year ago but was postponed, extending the term of office of incumbent LegCo members.
Pro-democracy groups largely gave up on the election. After vetting by the Office for Safeguarding National Security, only 11 candidates out of the 153 allowed to run were not aligned with Beijing.
Under Hong Kong’s new and controversial electoral law, only 20 out of 90 members are elected by popular vote; 40 seats were filled by the pro-Beijing Election Committee, and 30 members were picked by functional constituencies, which also lean towards the government.
According to several observers, the reform was an attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, which was supposed to last until 2047, part of the agreement for the transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.
After Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in the summer of 2020, all main pro-democracy leaders ended up in prison, placed under investigation, or forced into self-imposed exile.
A large majority of the population chose to snub or boycott an electoral process that lacked the essential ingredient of pluralism.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam tried to explain away the low turnout by saying that it was not important in an election, viewing it as a negligible detail, not – as it should be – a necessary condition.
The Hong Kong government also tried to downplay the low turnout despite attempts to encourage people to vote with free public transport on election day; in fact, many voters took advantage of free rides to visit the city rather than going to the polling stations.
Last-minute appeals sent to voters via text message were also not heeded, like the one by Xia Baolong, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Chinese State Council.
The threat of arrest against pro-democracy activists who had called on voters to boycott the election or spoil their ballots did not work either.
A few days before the election, Hong Kong’s new Catholic bishop, Mgr Stephen Chow, released a statement expressing “Concern for the democratisation of Hong Kong SAR[*]”.
In it, the prelate urged the faithful to participate in the vote “in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and the social teachings of the Church”.
He ended his appeal asking everyone to "pray that God will guide the Hong Kong SAR towards full democratisation”.
For its part, the Chinese government issued a white paper praising the vote in Hong Kong, claiming that it “was characterised by wide representation and inclusiveness”, a step towards “implementing universal suffrage”.
For Xi Jinping, the one-party dictatorship is true democracy, not the “formalities” of the Western model. Hong Kongers beg to differ.
[*] Special Administrative Region.