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HK elite picks new ‘patriots only’ legislature

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam leaves a polling station after casting her vote in the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong on Sunday. AFP

HK elite picks new ‘patriots only’ legislature

Hong Kong’s political elite began voting to pick new city lawmakers on December 19 under Beijing’s “patriots only” rules that drastically reduce the number of directly elected seats and control who can run for office.

It is the first legislature poll overseen by a new political blueprint that China imposed on Hong Kong in response to massive and often violent “pro-democracy” protests two years ago.

All candidates have been vetted for their patriotism and political loyalty to China and only 20 of the 90 legislature seats will be directly elected.

Voting centres opened at 8:30am (0030 GMT) for some 4.5 million registered voters in the city of 7.5 million, and would close 14 hours later with polling suggesting the turnout could be low.

The largest chunk of legislature seats – 40 – will be picked by a committee of 1,500 staunch Beijing loyalists.

The remaining 30 will be chosen by reliably pro-Beijing committees that represent special-interest and industry groups.

Low turnout?

Daniel So, a 65-year-old who works in technology, was among the first queueing at a polling centre in the wealthy Mid-Levels district.

“The young people are not so interested in this election because they are misled by foreign politicians and media,” he said. “China is doing so great now.”

As Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam arrived to cast her vote, three protesters from the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats party chanted: “I want genuine universal suffrage.”

“[Lam] said this was an improvement of the electoral system, but in reality it stripped Hong Kongers of their right to vote,” activist Chan Po-ying told reporters.

Hong Kong currently bans more than four people gathering in public under coronavirus rules although it has not had a local outbreak in months.

For the first time, polling stations have been set up at the border to cater to Hong Kongers living in mainland China.

The government bought up newspaper front pages and billboards, sent flyers to every household, pinged mobile phones with reminders to vote and made public transport free for the day.

Some major private companies, including Chinese banks, property conglomerates and accounting multinational KPMG have encouraged staff to vote, according to media reports.

Despite the publicity blitz, the latest polls showed only 48 per cent of respondents said they would vote – a record low – and 52 per cent said they found no candidate worthy of support.

Lam has sought to manage expectations, telling state media last week that a low turnout could indicate “the government is doing well and its credibility is high”.

Independent polling places her public approval rating at around 36 per cent.

December 19’s election has received vocal backing from Beijing, which sees the new system as a way to root out “anti-China” elements and restore order in a legislature freed from a disruptive opposition.

Critics counter that Beijing has all but banned opposition politics in a city that once boasted a rambunctious political scene.

Dozens of prominent opposition figures – including many democrats who won legislature seats in the previous election – have been jailed, disqualified or have fled overseas.

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