Hong Kong’s first ‘only for patriots’ election begins

HONG KONG, SEPTEMBER 19 (Reuters) – Fewer than 5,000 Hong Kong people from predominantly pro-establishment circles on Sunday began voting for candidates in an election committee controlled as loyal to Beijing, which elects the city’s next China-backed leader and some of its legislators.

Democratic candidates are virtually absent from Hong Kong’s first election since Beijing revised the city’s electoral system to ensure that “only patriots” rule China’s freest city.

“The whole purpose of improving the electoral system is to ensure that patriots govern Hong Kong,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s CEO, on Sunday morning.

“I very much doubt that another government or country will allow the public election to their local legislature of people whose mission is to undermine national interest or national security.”

The Nomination Committee elects 40 seats on the Renewed Legislative Council in December and elects a CEO in March.

Police have increased security across the city, with local media reporting that 6,000 officers are expected to be deployed to ensure a smooth vote, with around 4,900 people expected to cast ballots.

Changes in the political system are the latest in a series of steps – including a national security law punishing anything Beijing considers subversion, secession, terrorism or interaction with foreign forces – that have placed the international financial hub on an authoritarian path.

Most prominent democratic activists and politicians are now in prison or have fled abroad.

In May, China’s rubber stamp parliament changed Hong Kong’s electoral system, reduced democratic representation in institutions, and introduced a control mechanism for election candidates and winners. This removed anything but any influence the opposition was able to exercise.

The changes also dramatically reduced the city’s influence powerful tycoons, although groups close to their business interests retain a presence on the 1,500-strong committee that elects Hong Kong’s CEO.

TYCOONS OUT, SONS BLIVER

China promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Constitution, which also says the city has far-reaching autonomy from Beijing.

Democrat and Western countries say the political overhaul is moving the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with its most limited space since Britain left the former colony to China in 1997.

Committee membership for 117 district councilors at Community level, dominated by Democrats, was scrapped, while more than 500 seats designated for Chinese business, political and grassroots groups were added.

The new electoral roll includes community-level organizations such as the Modern Mummy Group and the Chinese Arts Papercutting Association, reported Cable TV.

Representation from professional sub-sectors, which traditionally had a larger democratic presence, was diluted by the addition of ex-officio members, reducing the number of seats elected.

About 70% of the nominees did not participate in the last two polls for the committee, which will expand by 300 members to 1,500, Reuters calculations based on the nomination committee’s website showed.

Many prominent tycoons, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, will not be on the election committee for the first time as Beijing seeks to rebalance power from large conglomerates to small businesses.

Three real estate moguls – Li, 93, of CK Asset Holdings, Lee Shau -kee, also 93, of Henderson Land and Henry Cheng, 74, of New World Development – withdrew from the race, though their sons will retain their seats.

Reporting by Sara Cheng and Alun John; Additional reporting by Greg Torode; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by William Mallard and Edmund Klamann

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