Election tests Hong Kong’s stomach for defying Beijing

Hong Kong residents voted Sunday in by-elections that give opponent supporters the chance to recapture lost ground in a tournament measuring voters’ appetite for democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

The vote cavities pro-Beijing loyalists against opposition candidates vying for four seats in the city’s semi-democratic legislature. The seats were left empty when a group of lawmakers were expelled following a 2016 controversy over their oaths, which they used to elude China.

The ejected members included two advocating Hong Kong’s independence, something China’s President Xi Jinping has called a “red line.”

In the vote’s main battleground, little known activist Au Nok-hin is compete against pro-Beijing rival Judy Chan. He was enlisted at the last moment after officials disqualified the pro-democracy camp’s pavilion candidate, 21 -year-old Agnes Chow, because she advocated for Hong Kongers to decide their own future.

“This election is not just a normal election; it is a battle between the pro-Beijing camp and the pro-democracy camp, ” Chow said. It’s “also a very important option for Hong Kong people for whether they want rule of statute or regulation by the Communist Party.”

She said Hong Kong’s younger generation hoped for democratic development. But that prospect appears increasingly remote after Xi prepared to abolish word restrictions, paving the style for him to remain China’s president indefinitely.

Chow had intended to stand for the seat vacated after the disqualification of Nathan Law, a fellow member of their Demosisto party who became Hong Kong’s youngest-ever lawmaker. The two were among a wave of young activists who emerged from the massive but inconclusive 2014 “Umbrella Movement” demoes against Beijing’s plans to restrict elections for Hong Kong’s top leader.

Under the “one country, two systems” framework, Beijing promised to let Hong Kong maintain broad independence and civil liberties following its 1997 handover from Britain. Dreads are rising that China’s communist leaders are backtracking.

Some 2.1 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for three Legislative Council seats while a fourth is chosen by architects and surveyors. Business and trade groups account for about half the council’s 70 seats.

Only one of the disqualified lawmakers, prof Edward Yiu, is to intervene in the race after officers unexpectedly approved his candidacy. Two more seats will be decided subsequently because of ongoing legal action.

Governments and rights groups have expressed concern about the disqualifications.

“The by-elections have been tainted by government-sanctioned political screening which has resulted in the disqualification of elected lawmakers and candidates, ” British non-government organisation Hong Kong Watch said in a report last week.

Results are expected early Monday.

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