Hong Kong people shunned “patriotic” elections

With only 30% turnout for the election of the only seats to be nominated by universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s new parliament, the December 19 election was a scathing disavowal of the pro-Beijing government led by Carrie Lam. In absolute numbers, 3.1 of the 4.5 million voters abstained from voting on Sunday, despite the many means deployed to encourage them to do so. Almost 2% of the ballots were blank or invalid. This is, by far, the lowest turnout ever in legislative elections since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.

These pseudo-elections are in fact the culmination of a long process of purging Parliament, which began in 2016, when an unexpected number of young rebel MPs managed to get elected. A disqualification procedure imposed by Beijing had eliminated the most intractable elements, on the pretext of badly taken oaths. Beijing then deemed it safer to completely change the organization of parliament by imposing a new electoral code in March 2021, a way of maintaining an appearance of democratic consultation while eliminating the slightest risk. Beijing also published Monday morning a white paper on “democracy with characteristics of Hong Kong”.

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A total of 153 “patriotic” candidates contested for the 90 seats in the new Parliament, defined by the electoral code designed and imposed by Beijing in March. All the candidates had previously gone through a laborious validation process, to the detriment of those from the pro-democracy camp, who were unable to attend.

The candidates of the Democratic Alliance for Improvement and Progress, the large pro-Beijing party in Hong Kong (where the Chinese Communist Party is not represented), have almost all been elected or re-elected. The few candidates who, like a bus driver, an electrician, the famous Canadian businessman naturalized Chinese Allan Zeman, or the former high official British official, also naturalized Chinese, Mike Rowse, would have able to bring a little element of “diversity” to this Parliament, were all beaten.

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Even if the ballot was devoid of any political stake, the government still hoped to achieve a turnout that would lend some semblance of credibility to this exercise. An intense publicity campaign took place, and a law criminalizing calls for boycotts or blank votes was passed. The polling stations remained open for fourteen straight hours. Three other exceptional polling stations have also been set up on the border with China to allow Hong Kong citizens living in mainland China to vote – without having to comply with crippling quarantine formalities.

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Hong Kong people shunned “patriotic” elections