On Sunday, fewer than 5,000 Hong Kong residents, primarily from pro-establishment circles, began voting for candidates to an electoral committee vetted as loyal to Beijing, which will choose the city’s next China-backed leader and some of its legislature.
Pro-democracy candidates are almost non-existent in Hong Kong’s first election since Beijing changed the territory’s voting system in order to ensure that “only patriots” run China’s freest metropolis.
“The whole objective of improving the electoral system is to ensure patriots administer Hong Kong,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Sunday morning.
“I doubt very much that another government or country will allow the public election to their local legislature of people whose mission is to undermine the national interest or national security.”
The election committee will select 40 seats in the revamped Legislative Council in December, and choose a chief executive in March.
Police have ramped up security across the city, with local media reporting 6,000 officers are expected to be deployed to ensure a smooth vote, in which about 4,900 people are expected to cast ballots.
Changes to the political system are the latest in a series of actions, including a national security law that punishes whatever Beijing considers to be subversion, secession, terrorism, or coordination with foreign forces, that have pushed the international financial centre towards authoritarianism.
The majority of famous democratic activists and politicians are currently imprisoned or have fled abroad.
In May, China’s rubber-stamp parliament altered Hong Kong’s voting system, restricting democratic representation in institutions and instituting a screening system for election candidates and winners. This effectively eliminated the opposition’s ability to exercise influence.
The changes also dramatically reduced the influence of the city’s powerful tycoons, although groups close to their business interests retain a presence in the 1,500-strong committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive.
TYCOONS OUT, SONS REMAIN
China promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing.
Democracy campaigners and Western countries say the political overhaul moves the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with its most limited space since Britain handed the former colony back to China in 1997.
Committee membership for 117 community-level district councillors, dominated by democrats, was scrapped, while more than 500 seats designated for Chinese business, political and grassroots groups were added.
The new electoral list includes community-level organisations such as Modern Mummy Group and Chinese Arts Papercutting Association, Cable TV reported.
Representation from professional subsectors that traditionally had a bigger pro-democracy presence was diluted by the addition of ex-officio members, reducing the number of elected seats.
According to Reuters calculations based on the election committee website, around 70% of the nominees did not appear in the last two polls for the committee, which will grow by 300 members to 1,500.
For the first time, many notable tycoons, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, will not be on the election committee, as Beijing strives to shift influence away from large conglomerates and towards small enterprises.
Three property tycoons, Li, 93, of CK Asset Holdings, Lee Shau-kee, also 93, of Henderson Land, and Henry Cheng, 74, of New World Development, withdrew from the race, but their sons will keep their seats.