Voters choose new Hong Kong electors under pro-Beijing laws

Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — Select Hong Kong residents voted for members of the Election Committee that will choose the city's leader in the first polls Sunday following reforms meant to ensure candidates with Beijing loyalty.

The Election Committee will select 40 of 90 lawmakers in the city’s legislature during elections in December, as well as elect the Hong Kong leader during polls in March next year.

In May, the legislature amended Hong Kong’s electoral laws to ensure that only “patriots” – people who are loyal to China and the semi-autonomous territory – will rule the city. The committee also was expanded to 1,500 members, from 1,200, and the number of direct voters for committee seats was reduced from about 246,000 to less than 8,000.

The restructured electoral process guarantees a vast majority of the Elections Committee will be largely pro-Beijing candidates, who are likely to choose a chief executive and nearly half of lawmakers who are aligned with the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

“Today’s Election Committee elections are very meaningful as it is the first elections held after we have improved the electoral system to ensure that only patriots can take office,” Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said. It’s not yet known if Lam will seek reelection in March.

The changes are part of a broad crackdown on Hong Kong civil society following mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. Authorities have tightened control over the city with a sweeping national security law imposed by China’s Communist Party that effectively criminalized opposition to the government. The law and other changes have forced several civil organizations to disband or seen their leaders arrested.

Also Sunday, Hong Kong’s largest opposition trade union — the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions — said it would disband out of concerns for the safety of its members. The trade union is the latest organization to disband, following the dissolution of a teachers’ union and rally organizer the Civil Human Rights Front last month.

Critics say the changes restrict freedoms Hong Kong was promised it could maintain for 50 years following the territory’s 1997 handover to China from colonial Britain.

The nearly 4,900 voters representing different professions and industries who went to polls Sunday under a heavy police presence will choose among just 412 candidates for 364 seats in the Election Committee. Other seats were uncontested or held by people chosen based on their titles.

“This election lets us select solid patriots who love our country and Hong Kong to rule Hong Kong, and who demonstrate their strengths in Hong Kong’s administration and politics,” said Armstrong Lee, a candidate representing the social welfare sector.