By ZEN SOO, Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong voted on Sunday in the first election since Beijing changed laws to reduce the number of directly elected lawmakers and veterinary candidates to ensure that only those loyal to China can run.
The semi-autonomous territory was rocked by pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019, but they were crushed by security forces, followed by the imposition of a sweeping national security law that reduced to silence most of the city’s opposition activists and leads others to flee abroad.
Constitution and Continental Affairs Minister Erick Tsang warned on Saturday that foreign forces could attempt to undermine the elections after foreign activists called for a boycott of the vote. Under the new election laws, incitement to boycott and invalid vote can lead to up to three years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($ 26,500).
Low turnout was widely expected, with the latest Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute poll revealing that 39% of those polled said they likely would not vote.
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Some 4.4 million inhabitants have the right to vote. Elections were originally scheduled to take place in September last year, but have been postponed, with authorities citing public health risks from the pandemic. The decision was challenged by the pro-democracy camp, which accused the government of using the epidemic to delay the vote.
Hong Kong’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, did not field any candidates.
A strong police presence surrounded the polling stations on Sunday. Police chief Raymond Siu said around 10,000 officers would be deployed to ensure the smooth running of the elections.
To encourage the vote, authorities offered free public transport in an unprecedented move and sent reminder messages a day before the poll.
“Vote for HK – our home! The election of LegCo is important for you and for the future of HK! The message read, referring to the Legislative Council.
The Chinese parliament approved a resolution in March to amend Hong Kong’s electoral law, which many saw as effectively ending the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong had to keep its legal, political and financial institutions separate for a period of time. 50 years. after the transfer from Great Britain in 1997.
The assembly voted to give a pro-Beijing committee the power to appoint more Hong Kong lawmakers, reducing the proportion of those directly elected, and ensuring that only those who are truly loyal to Beijing are allowed to run for office. elections.
The move expanded the size of the chamber from 70 to 90 seats, with members of the Election Commission, a strongly pro-Beijing body tasked with electing the chief executive, representing 40 of them. 30 other seats are elected by groups of companies called “functional constituencies”. The number of directly elected representatives has been reduced from 35 to 20. Five elected seats among district councilors have been completely abolished.
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