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Hong Kong politicians in exile call for international response to electoral changes

Hong Kong flag (Unsplash)
September 15, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong’s “last elected district councilors” have called on the international community to withdraw recognition for the city’s legislature after it voted to slash the number of directly elected district council seats.

The city’s legislature – which has been packed with pro-Beijing members since changes to the electoral system that saw chief executive John Lee “win” an election in which he was the only candidate – voted unanimously last week to slash the number of directly elected seats on District Council from 452 to just 88.

The move comes amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and political opposition in Hong Kong, and after millions of voters in Hong Kong delivered a stunning rebuke to Beijing and their own government with a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates across the city’s 18 district councils at the height of the 2019 protest movement.

Lee welcomed the changes to the District Council election rules, which will also ensure that pro-democracy candidates won’t be able to run in the next election.

“We must … completely exclude those anti-China and destabilizing forces from the District Councils,” Lee said in a July 8 statement. “This legislative exercise [will] ensure that the District Councils are firmly in the hands of patriots.”

Lee said the government is looking for candidates who are “capable, experienced, with relevant skill sets suited to the needs of the districts, and patriotic,” although the government has yet to set a date for the district election.

Under the new rules, which took effect on Monday, candidates will have to pass a national security background check and secure at least three nominations from several committees loyal to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

More than 20 former District Council members in exile have called on the international community to withdraw official recognition of Hong Kong’s Legislative and District Councils, which no longer “legally represent the people of Hong Kong.”

Elections for show

The joint letter authored by former Shek Tong Tsui district councilor Sam Yip, who fled the ongoing crackdown to live in Japan, said that the latest legislation has sounded the death knell for any kind of democracy in Hong Kong.

“Under the framework of the Hong Kong government’s so-called ‘patriots governing Hong Kong’ policy, candidates must show their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party before they can run for election,” Yip said. “[They have to] go to these pro-government people to get nominated.”

Former Legislative Council member and former District Council member Ted Hui, who is among eight prominent overseas activists wanted by national security police for “collusion with foreign forces,” said he, Yip and the other signatories to the letter were “the last democratically elected district councilors.”

“Maybe we would never get through the government’s review process … but the public opinion we represented still exists,” Hui said. “We may scatter all over the world, but we still want to serve the people of Hong Kong.”

Daniel Kwok, a former Hong Kong district councilor now living in the United Kingdom, said the whole electoral system in Hong Kong is now just there for show.

“You have to pass the qualification review [examining your loyalty to Beijing] and a political review process,” Kwok said. “It’s a high threshold.”

“The motivation is clear — it’s to cling to the principle that only patriots can rule Hong Kong, and eliminate any of the voices of the so-called ‘anti-China chaotic elements’ in Hong Kong,” he said.

2020 National Security Law

Kwok said it’s important to amplify these changes to the rest of the world.

“Many Western democracies may not have a timely understanding of the situation,” he said. “Nobody has yet formally discussed the changes to the electoral rules for the Legislative Council and District Council at the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

“We have to keep on speaking out and keep the issue alive in the international community,” he said.

The European Union said in a July 6 statement that the changes go against China’s commitment to democratic representation under the terms of the 1997 handover.

“This severely weakens the ability of the people of Hong Kong to choose representatives overlooking district affairs,” it said, noting that the decision follows the imposition of a draconian national security law on Hong Kong from July 2020.

“These developments raise serious questions about the state of fundamental freedoms, democracy and political pluralism in Hong Kong that were supposed to remain protected until at least 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and China’s international commitments,” it said.

The Hong Kong government “vehemently rejected” the EU statement and said the bloc was “interfering in Hong Kong matters, which are purely China’s internal affairs.”

It said there was no mention of democratically elected district councilors in the handover treaty or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

It said the elected component under the new rules would still be larger than it was under British rule during the 1980s.