Sitting in their cells last week, dozens of opposition leaders from Hong Kong They received bureaucratic flyers reminding them of their right to vote in the city’s legislative elections on Sunday, as well as a detailed list of candidates. “We laugh at it”Said a person who recently visited a detained opposition activist and spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions for the prisoner. “Will not vote”.
The Orwellian episode underscores the flimsy veneer of legitimacy that covers the election exercise this weekend. In the 18 months since Hong Kong leaders postponed the vote, citing the pandemic, authorities have maneuvered to guarantee the outcome. Most of the pro-democracy opposition have been jailed under a new security law or have fled into exile. Beijing has modified the electoral system and added a requirement that only “patriots” loyal to the Chinese Communist Party can run..
Still, officials at the China-run financial center are bent on creating the illusion of a fair contest and threaten those who suggest otherwise, a textbook approach to authoritarian regimes demanding a mandate through a flawed electoral process. .
“The regime desperately craves legitimacy”Through an election, he said Lee Morgenbesser, expert in authoritarian politics and professor of the Griffith University of Australia. “But once they get rid of the opposition like they have, the pretense becomes harder to establish and a little more outlandish.”.
Sunday’s vote follows a tumultuous period in Hong Kong, where 2019 saw large protests against Beijing’s interference in local affairs, sparking months of unrest and police repression.
Last year, China imposed a security law that criminalized much of dissent; the authorities have since jailed more than 100 people under its provisions. In February of this year, almost all prominent Hong Kong opposition activists were in jail or had fled abroad.
Exiled leaders of the democracy movement have called on Hong Kongers to vote blank this weekend or boycott the process.. The authorities responded by issuing arrest warrants against them.
This month, a senior Hong Kong official threatened to undertake the “necessary actions” against him Wall street journal after the newspaper published an opinion column stating that boycott and blank voting “are one of the last ways Hong Kongers express their political opinions.” Hong Kong has issued similar warnings to more than a dozen foreign publications in the past three months. At least 10 people have been arrested, and two of them charged, for allegedly inciting to vote blank.
While mainland China has a one-party regime and there are no national elections, Hong Kong still technically has a multi-party legislature. Only part of the chamber has been elected by direct vote, with many seats reserved for representatives of pro-Beijing business interests. But until recently, the legislative branch had acted as a check on the executive branch.
In the 2016 election, Beijing’s supporters retained the majority of seats, but voters also elected representatives of Hong Kong’s diverse democracy movement, such as activists Nathan Law, Baggio leung Y Alvin yeung. This time, with the opposition out of the picture, almost all the candidates are aligned with Beijing to varying degrees.
Maintaining the appearance of a normal campaign, election banners line city walls and railings, showing one candidate after another promising to restore “stability” in Hong Kong.
The debates have developed as in previous elections; one candidate said that he has been working to get a subway station built in a district that already has one since 1985. In another debate, a influencer A pro-Beijing social media official was questioned by a candidate about whether she had “landed out of nowhere” for the position and questioned her familiarity with local issues. The candidate cited her popular YouTube page as proof of her qualifications. The local media related to Beijing continue to cover these campaign events as if they were normal.
But the qualifications or popularity of the candidates are ultimately secondary, he said. Steve Tsang, director of the Institute of China SOAS of the University of Londonas the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is now in control. “This will be a legislative chamber with characteristics of the PRC“, He said.
Seemingly sensitive to the prospect of low turnout, Hong Kong officials and even businesses, eager to uphold China’s goodwill, are cajoling residents to vote. At least one foreign company, the professional services firm KPMG, has offered a day off to employees who prove they have voted.
Chris Tang, secretary of security, instructed his office, which includes police and firefighters, that they were “required to take practical steps to support these elections”.
The Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has repeatedly encouraged residents to participate, saying that casting a vote would be a “vote in the future of Hong Kong.” However, in an interview with the Global Times, a state-controlled Chinese tabloid, said low turnout could be a sign of confidence in his administration.
“There is a saying that when the government is doing well and its credibility is high, voter turnout will decrease because people do not have a strong demand to elect different legislators to oversee the government.“, He said, adding that the rate” does not mean anything. ” An independent poll recently showed support for Lam of 35.7%.
The fanfare surrounding Sunday’s vote shows that Beijing believes the “one country, two systems” principle remains in force in Hong Kong, Tsang said., referring to Beijing’s guarantee that the former British colony would maintain a high degree of autonomy after its handover to China in 1997. “That may be completely untrue, but they want to insist that untruth be maintained.Tsang said.
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