HONG KONG, Sept. 19 (Reuters) – Fewer than 5,000 Hong Kongers from mostly pro-establishment backgrounds vote Sunday for candidates approved as loyal to Beijing, which will choose the city’s next Chinese-backed ruler.
Pro-democracy candidates are almost absent from Hong Kong’s first election since Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral system to ensure that “only the patriots” rule China’s freest city.
Police have stepped up security throughout the city, with local media reporting that 6,000 officers should be deployed to ensure a smooth vote, during which around 4,900 people are expected to vote.
The changes to the political system are the latest in a series of measures – including a national security law that punishes anything Beijing considers subversion, secession, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces – which have placed the international financial center on an authoritarian path.
Most prominent Democratic activists and politicians are now in prison or have fled abroad.
The Chinese parliament last May approved Hong Kong’s electoral system, reducing democratic representation in institutions and introducing the mechanism to monitor candidates and winners in elections. This virtually removed any influence the opposition was able to wield.
The changes have also dramatically reduced the influence of the city’s powerful tycoons, although groups close to their business interests retain a presence on the 1,500-person committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive.
China has promised universal suffrage as the ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states that the city has broad autonomy from Beijing.
Democracy activists and Western countries alike say the political overhaul is moving the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has had since Britain surrendered its former colony to the China in 1997.
TYCOONS OUT, THE WIRES REMAIN
The membership of the committee of 117 district councilors at the community level, dominated by Democrats, was removed, while more than 500 seats reserved for Chinese business, political and popular groups were added.
The new voters list includes community-level organizations such as Modern Mummy Group and Chinese Arts Papercutting Association, Cable TV reported.
The representation of professional sub-sectors that traditionally had a greater pro-democracy presence, including legal, educational, social, medical and health services, has been diluted by the addition of ex-officio members, reducing the number of elected seats.
Twenty-three of the 36 sub-sectors open to competition, totaling around 600 seats, will not see any competition.
About 70% of the candidates have not appeared in the last two polls for the committee, which will drop from 300 members to 1,500, according to Reuters calculations based on the election committee’s website.
Many prominent tycoons, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, will not sit on the electoral 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, although their sons keep their seats.
The electoral committee will select 40 seats in the revamped Legislative Council in December and choose a chief executive in March.
Reporting by Sara Cheng and Alun John; Additional reports by Greg Torode; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by William Mallard
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