Hong Kong’s legislature has been overrun by Beijing loyalists under an electoral system that shuts out pro-democracy critics. The recent vote does not deserve to be called an election and marks an alarming loss of the territory’s model for broadly representative government.
The problem began with the national security law imposed last year over the heads of the territory’s legislature. Central figures in the pro-democracy movement were sentenced to prison, and under Beijing’s heavy hand Hong Kong’s electoral system took a sharp turn for the worse.
Just 20 of the 90 seats in the Legislative Council are now directly elected, and only “patriots” who secure enough nominations and pass a security screening may run.
The “high degree of autonomy” granted to Hong Kong within China has been underpinned by fair elections and the legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch. The Basic Law, the de facto constitution enacted with the 1997 handover from the U.K., sets election by universal suffrage as the ultimate aim.
A hollowing out of the city’s elections and independent legislature would sound the death knell for the “one country, two systems” framework promised by China.
Voter participation reached an all-time low of 30.2%, even with free public transit available on election day. China and the Hong Kong government should face up to the reality of Hong Kongers’ disappointment in this political charade.
If this continues, the Legislative Council will move closer to the rubber-stamp nature of China’s National People’s Congress.
Mainland China nominally has eight “democratic parties,” but these are led by the Chinese Communist Party, and serve only as a tool to conceal the stark truth of the country’s one-party state and create the trappings of a multiparty system.
Hong Kong has served as a valuable point of contact between Chinese socialism and Western-style democracy. In China’s “reform and opening up” era, the territory played a major economic role that supported the rapid growth of the country as a whole. Its decline will inevitably come to haunt the rest of China.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industrial nations issued a joint statement after the election expressing “grave concern over the erosion of democratic elements of the Special Administrative Region’s electoral system,” but China does not appear inclined to listen. Against this backdrop, countries have begun announcing diplomatic boycotts of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.
President Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s leadership should recognize that a refusal to tolerate dissent in Hong Kong will only intensify distrust toward Beijing.