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Fighting for democracy, Hong Kong residents boycott elections

January 03, 2022
topics: Election
by: Sasha Kong
located in: Hong Kong
tags: China, democracy, elections, Hong Kong

Hong Kong saw the lowest election turn out this month since its independence from Britain. And while the government ascribes the low number of cast ballots to people's satisfaction with the current lawmakers, the city's residents tell an entirely different story.

Waiting in line for over half an hour, Hong Kong resident Millie was patient. Along with many others in the line, the twenty-something radiated a sense of mission: to express her opposition with a vote. 

That was back in November 2019, when elections still represented some form of democracy, Millie, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told FairPlanet. The office worker refused to cast her vote in the recent legislative election, which saw the the lowest turnout since the former British colony’s handover back to China in 1997. 

“That [the 2019 district election] was a real election, but in the recent one, there were no pro-democracy candidates. I refuse to help the government push up the turnout rate or endorse this twisted election,” Millie said. 

Fewer than one-in-three registered voters in Hong Kong cast their ballots at the “patriots-only” election on 19 December, a far cry from the record high turnout of 71 percent in the 2019 district council election, and the 58 percent in the legislative election in 2016. 

The city’s leader Carrie Lam said there could be different interpretations of the low turnout rate. 

“Voters decide if they vote or not. Each voter has much to consider, like the current political climate, the quality of candidates, the society and the weather on the election day, and so on,” she told the press a day after the election. 

Boycotting the election: silent opposition

Exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui called this a “collective political action” on social media

“Although people can’t rally on the streets, voice their opposition openly anymore, and activists were sent to jail, Hong Kong people still act together against the authoritarian regime,” Hui said. 

Hui, along with other high-profile opposition politicians overseas, called for boycotting the election or casting blank votes against the authorities before the election. Under the new rules that came into effect in March, such actions have become illegal and result in arrest warrants against those who commit them. 

In March, an election revamp sent a shockwave across Hong Kong’s mini parliament. The Legislative Council’s seats were bumped from 70 to 90, with elected members from specific geographical constituencies plummeting from 35 to only 20.

Elected members from functional constituencies - traditionally elected by specific members in certain industrial sectors in the city - dropped from 35 to 30. The remaining 40 members were elected by only 1,500 members of an election committee consisting mostly of the pro-establishment camp. 

The changes were widely seen as Beijing’s surging control over the city after the 2019 democracy movement that started off as protests against the now-withdrawn extradition bill had slowly morphed into a general movement for democracy, universal suffrage and, later, independence. 

Although the government insisted that there was a “silent majority” in the city that were not supportive of the movement, the 2019 district election proved it wrong. 

Within a year, Beijing implemented the contentious national security law in the city. It criminalises any acts China considers subversive, acts of secession, terrorist and colluding with foreign forces. 

A fraudulent election

Dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers and activists were arrested and accused of subversion under the new law for holding a primary general election last year that was supposed to determine who will run for the official legislative council election. They have either been barred from running or lost the eligibility to do do due to their arrests. 

This lack of diversity of candidates in the recent election was one of the main drivers behind Millie’s decision not to vote. 

“There were people from multiple camps running for the elections in the past, but there were only hopefuls from a single side this time, so why bother?” Millie said. 

Only one independent candidate secured a victory in the election, out of the 90 seats in the Legislative Council, but the government insisted there was “diversity” in candidates’ profiles in the election. 

Lam said that the election "by and large met the objective of having that diversity." Before the election, she also told China’s state media Global Times that people might not vote because they are satisfied with the current government. 

“There is a saying that when the government is doing well and its credibility is high, the voter turnout will decrease because the people do not have a strong demand to choose different lawmakers to supervise the government,” the unpopular leader said.  

Millie smirked and described Lam’s comments as "ridiculous."

"If the political system maintains the same in the future, I will never vote again," she said. 

Image by Chromatograph

Article written by:
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Sasha Kong
Author
Hong Kong
Officials empty a ballot box following the Legislative Council General Election on 19 December, 2021 in Hong Kong, China.
© Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past campaign banners and placards as supporters of candidates rally for Legislative Council election on 19 December, 2021 in Hong Kong, China.
© Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
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