Hong Kong votes in localist legislators

Sunday was a momentous occasion for Hong Kong politics as the legislative elections took place, the first since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. After all the pre-election controversies with banned candidates and growing independence cries from new parties and Beijing’s ominous warnings, the burgeoning localist movement won eight seats, more than 10% of the total number of 70 seats, while the pro-Beijing groups maintained their majority with 40 seats.

The fact that localist candidates won seats will make for very interesting and potentially more confrontational political exchanges in the legislature in the near future. One of these eight winning localist candidates was Nathan Law, one of the main student leaders of the Umbrella Movement. As Hong Kong writer Jason Ng says in the Guardian, “if Beijing has raised the stakes, then Hong Kong voters appear to have seen the bet and raised it.”

About 58% of the electorate or 2.2 million turned out to vote, which is very high for the legislative elections. For myself, I couldn’t take part in this “historic” moment because I hadn’t registered and the deadline had been a couple of months ago.

However, the legislative elections represents one of the bigger problems in Hong Kong politics. That’s because the legislative system must be one of the world’s most complicated and unfair ones. Rather than first-past-the-post vs proportional representation debate, the major issue with Hong Kong’s system is one of the fact corporations and industries literally get to vote and elect actual legislators. This is because the 70 seats are divided into 35 geographical constituencies and 35 functional constituencies, though 5 of these are “superseats” open to all non-functional seat voters. The latter are the ones where industrial and other sectors get specific seats so you have insurance, finance, commerce and even agricultural and fisheries selecting legislators solely to represent their interests. As a result, a mere few hundred thousands voters get to choose these 30 seats, compared to several million for the 35 geographical ones! This system actually started under the British, as a way for the business sectors to retain some control over the running of Hong Kong, but obviously it is not a fair or effective system (disclaimer: I do work for an organization that is involved in the functional elections). This feature from HK Free Press shows exactly how complicated the system is.

Another complicated aspect of local politics is that there are a ton of parties. Just to name a few, there are the pro-government DAB and BPA, the pan-democrat Civic Party, Labour Party and People Power and localist upstarts like Demosisto and Youngspiration. To keep things simple, there are three main camps. First, the pro-China parties, which as is obvious from the description, always side with the authorities, including both the HK government and Beijing; second, the pan-democrats are a diverse bunch that strive for increased democracy and oppose the pro-China groups, and the localists, which are a younger and more radical group that openly criticize Beijing and most controversially of all, support Hong Kong independence.

Meanwhile, in mainland China, was the election covered, seeing as how worried state newspapers had been beforehand? Not at all, with the exception of a couple of articles, according to David Bandurski who searched a database through over 300 mainland newspapers. Furthermore, but not surprisingly, China also unleashed its customary censorship as Weibo posts and a BBC World broadcast about the HK elections were respectively, deleted and cut off.


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