Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in exile are promoting a boycott of the local legislature’s December 19 elections, and “patriots only” elections in which calls to abstain from voting are criminalized.
“It’s a deal with the devil,” says Sunny Cheung, a 25-year-old prominent activist who has sought asylum in the United States.
He insists that “Hong Kong residents should not support an authoritarian regime and help it wear a quasi-democratic veil”. “With reform and its careful political scrutiny, no true democrat can be elected without bowing to Beijing,” he adds.
The limited democracy of this former British colony returned to China in 1997, and was further constrained by the imposition of a new electoral system in the wake of massive and violent pro-democracy protests in 2019.
On December 19, all ninety seats in the Hong Kong Legislative Council will be renewed. But only 20 positions, half of them compared to the past elections, will be chosen directly. The rest will be chosen by a carefully selected electoral commission or by interest groups linked to Beijing.
Candidates for the few positions identified at polling stations have to pass a rigorous scrutiny by the authorities, to assess their patriotism and political loyalty, which excludes opposition figures who are not imprisoned or exiled.
Alex Chow, the former student movement leader who was imprisoned for the 2014 pro-democracy protests, says the need to stay home is “clear”.
“Hong Kong voters should boycott the elections because it’s a way to protest the government,” says Zhao, who is also in the US.
It’s a dangerous argument in Hong Kong, where authorities have pushed for a new law to prosecute those calling for the boycott, even overseas. But the rule does not prevent abstaining from voting or voting in blank.
“It’s a selection process, not an election,” former student leader Nathan Law, now based in the UK, confirmed to Britain’s Sunday Times at the start of the month.
Many opposition fighters have left this international financial hub after a new national security law imposed last year by Beijing that crushed much of the opposition came into force last year.
Despite his absence, prominent exiles maintain a large number of believers on social networks and have become the spokesmen for their movement at a time when many of their former colleagues in Hong Kong are behind bars.
Three people have been arrested in Hong Kong for promoting the boycott, and local authorities have warned the Wall Street Journal for its editorial on the matter. In addition, two militants abroad were issued arrest warrants.
A spokesman for the Anti-Corruption Agency, which has also warned polling companies, against the inconvenience of asking voters if they will vote, said the law applies “whether the procedure takes place within Hong Kong or elsewhere”.
Xia Baolong, China’s top official in charge of politics in Hong Kong, said Monday that the December 19 election was a “vote of confidence for the +one country, two systems+ model” which in theory gives the country some autonomy. Colony.
The Beijing representative also accused the protesters of “blindly seeking Western-style democracy” and argued that the new system would neutralize “the destabilizing forces of China and for the independence of Hong Kong”.
China, a one-party state, often dismisses liberal democracies as anarchism, a sentiment shared by the CEO of this business hub, Carrie Lam.
Last Tuesday, he asked: “What is the point of having a so-called democracy if people are suffering, as you see in some Western democracies, in the fight against Covid-19?”
Observers anticipate a record low turnout in this election, which activists will celebrate as a victory to show disappointment among Hong Kong citizens.
Only 32% of people questioned in a recent poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research Group in Hong Kong said they intended to vote and 26% said they would boycott counseling. In 2016, the last election, 58% of voters participated.
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