In Hong Kong, the political landscape is undergoing a drastic transformation as the upcoming district council elections, scheduled for Sunday, are set to proceed without pro-democracy candidates for the first time in around four decades.
The new electoral rules, involving stringent nomination requirements and reduced directly elected seats, have substantially limited the diversity of candidates, leaving mostly individuals loyal to mainland China in contention.
Amid these changes, long-serving pro-democracy council members are bidding farewell to their roles. Winnie Poon, an esteemed council member with 38 years of service, marks her departure due to age and a disinterest in the altered political game. Likewise, Jay Li, known for his commitment to community improvement, chose not to seek reelection following the government’s electoral overhaul, which has raised costs and diminished election legitimacy.
The electoral changes, implemented through an amendment, drastically reduced directly elected seats on local district councils and mandated endorsements from government-appointed committees, mainly comprising Beijing loyalists. These alterations posed formidable challenges for pro-democracy candidates, affecting their ability to qualify for candidacy.
The lack of diversity in grassroots politics reflects the government’s crackdown on post-2019 protests, curbing civil liberties and political opposition. The democratic victory in the previous elections was a rebuke to the government, yet current alterations indicate a shrinking space for diverse opinions in the political realm.
The political environment’s narrowing scope has affected both pro-democracy and pro-government groups’ ability to secure endorsements, illustrating the challenging dynamics introduced by the new rules. While the government contends that the nomination rule is reasonable and aims to ensure candidates’ familiarity with district affairs, critics argue it fosters a ‘small-circle’ election scenario.
Despite governmental efforts to encourage voter turnout, some pro-democracy supporters disillusioned and plan to abstain from voting due to the absence of their preferred candidates. Amidst these changes, departing council members express concerns about the future, with reduced resources impacting their party’s operations.
As Hong Kong braces for an election without the representation of pro-democracy candidates, it reflects a significant shift in the political landscape, raising concerns about representation and the diversity of opinions within the district councils.