Hong Kong Financial City used to be the freedom fortress of China. Each year, tens of thousands of people honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre with a candlelight vigil, a topic no one is allowed to talk about in mainland China. There was lively opposition, scrutinizing the media and freedom of expression.
Now it’s history. In just two years, Hong Kong has changed drastically. The freedoms that the demonstrators feared would disappear during the protest movement in the fall of 2019.
with the help of The new national security law Practically all opposition disappeared. Pro-democracy activists and politicians were imprisoned or fled abroad. Freedom of expression and the press were violated. Organizations such as trade unions and religious sects were dissolved. Individuals practice self-censorship or surrender in their hometowns. By June of this year, about 90,000 had immigrated.
It’s in that environment Where Hong Kong goes to the polls on Sunday. selection occurs during New electoral laws put in place by the Communist Party of Beijing. Admittedly, Hong Kong has never held fully free and democratic elections. But with the new election laws, it’s easier than ever for the public to vote. In the past, Hong Kong residents were allowed to elect 40 of the 70 members of Parliament. Legco, as the parliament in Hong Kong is called, has now been expanded to 90 members, 20 of whom are directly elected.
At the same time, only patriots are allowed to run, that is, candidates who stand behind the Communist Party in Beijing. A panel evaluates and accredits those who meet the criteria.
Only those who cross all the barriers and are approved as candidates are just pro-government, says Kenneth Chan, associate professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.
He sees Sunday’s rehearsal as a well-directed theater rather than a choice.
– These are the kind of elections that authoritarian regimes usually hold, elections that we political scientists usually call unfree or illiberal and where those in power stick to all the strings. In Hong Kong today, people can no longer say what they think.
Just like in other elections There is an election campaign and discussions in which some candidates appear in opposition. But in reality, large sections of the opposition are in prison or have fled the country. The opposition party, previously the largest, the Democratic Party, is not running. Most of their former deputies are imprisoned.
It follows a choreographed script that Beijing hopes will make it appear as an option, says Kenneth Chan.
The new circumstances make many doubt whether they will vote. Concerned about the low turnout, Hong Kong political leader Carrie Lam recently stressed that encouraging election boycotts and empty voting is punishable under the new laws. Dozens have been arrested, some simply for posting about the boycott on social media. Kenneth Chan was unimpressed by the government’s attempts to lure people to the polls.
– They want to scare people into voting, I think it’s the wrong way and I think many will choose to stay at home.
Enthusiasm is unusually low, a survey of Hong Kong Institute for Public Opinion. Just over 50 percent said they intended to vote. Participation is usually around 80 percent.
National Security Law which was introduced this spring had a major impact on the social climate in Hong Kong. The law prohibits, among other things, activities aimed at separatism, incitement, subversive activities as well as dealing with foreign powers. It is couched in vague language and is used to silence both politicians and journalists who are critical of the government and Beijing.
Hong Kong is not the sophisticated, vibrant and open society we used to live in, says Kenneth Chan.
He sees Hong Kong increasingly immersed in the one-party system prevalent in mainland China, with critics accused of being “foreign agents”. The government, led by Carrie Lam, is calling on the population to embrace the “new normal,” which in practice means an increasingly controlled society with no room for dissent.
– It is not only activists and the opposition that the government wants. They also talk about reining in “soft resistance” by regulating the media and education. Anyone who thinks critically is considered the enemy of the state.
Kenneth Chan says, Behind the roof, there is still a population that can distinguish between right and wrong. According to him, large sections of the population and those who support the government live in parallel worlds with very different ideas about what constitutes a good society.
At the moment, it is difficult to do anything about the situation. But you never knew. Hong Kong is different from the rest of China, we have a different history and a different relationship to the rest of the world.
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