Hong Kong pro-democracy movement loses ground in by-election

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Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong have won back only two of the four seats up for grabs in a crucial by-election. The result means the democrats will lose veto power over some bills in the city’s legislature.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp claimed just two spots in the semi-autonomous Chinese region’s legislative council, according to the final vote tally announced on Monday.

The tense weekend by-election was held to replace four of six democrat lawmakers who were expelled from office after their oaths of allegiance were declared invalid. The ousted group, which included protest leaders and activists, had modified their pledges during a 2016 swearing-in ceremony in a show of protest against Beijing. 

Au Nok-hin, who replaced disqualified candidate and pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, won a seat in Hong Kong Island, while Gary Fan won for New Territories East.  

Edward Yiu, who was stripped of his seat last July, lost out to pro-establishment Vincent Cheng by a slim margin in the Kowloon West district. The fourth seat was also taken by a pro-Beijing candidate.

The two remaining empty seats will be decided at a later date.

‘Hollow victory’

About 43 percent of Hong Kong’s 2.1 million eligible voters cast ballots in Sunday’s poll — a significantly lower turnout than the 58 percent who voted in the last legislative council elections in 2016.

“I won’t say the result today is a victory,” Au told journalists after the results were announced. “I would say it’s only a hollow victory, because we’ve paid a rather high price for it. The democracy camp has faced huge suppressions due to the political turmoil in these years.”

The election result means the opposition democrats now hold 26 of the 70 seats in a chamber stacked with China loyalists. They still have the power to block major legislation needing two thirds backing to pass, but they no longer have enough seats to veto other bills that require a lower threshold.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been governed under a “one country, two systems” agreement since 1997 when Britain handed the territory back to China. Under the deal, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament, as well as an independent judiciary.

Activists fear Beijing is seeking to clamp down on political debate and tighten its grip on the semi-autonomous city.Mass protests in 2014, known as the Umbrella Movement, called for major reform, including self-determination and independence from China.

nm/jm (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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