Hong Kong activists in exile call for boycott of “patriots only” polls

Prominent Hong Kong Democratic activists who have fled overseas are calling on residents to boycott upcoming legislative polls, defying a new law that criminalizes incitement – even for those based overseas.

Hong Kong’s political elite will select a 90-seat legislative body on December 19 as part of a new “patriots-only” system imposed by Beijing after huge and often violent protests for democracy two years ago.

Only 20 seats will now be directly elected – down from half of the last polls – while all those who run for office must first be vetted for their patriotism and political loyalty.

Most of the city’s traditional pro-democracy opposition figures have been jailed, barred from running, refused to participate, or have fled abroad.

At least four prominent activists with many social media followers who have left Hong Kong have recently started to openly advocate for a boycott.

“Hong Kong people should not support the autocratic regime and help the regime continue a pseudo-democratic veil,” Sunny Cheung, a prominent 25-year-old activist currently seeking asylum in the United States, told AFP.

Hong Kong voters should boycott the election because it is a way of protesting the government

“It’s a pact with the devil. By virtue of the reform and its rigorous political filtering, no genuine Democrat can be elected without bowing down to Beijing.”

Alex Chow, a well-known former student leader who served prison time for spearheading democracy rallies in 2014, said it was “no-brainer” to stay home.

“Hong Kong voters should boycott the election because it is a way to protest the government,” said Chow, who is also now in the United States.

Dozens of activists left Hong Kong after Beijing last year imposed a national security law that criminalized much of dissent.

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Despite their absence, they maintain many online subscribers and have become vocal international lobbyists at a time when many of the critics who have remained are being prosecuted.

Two other activists, former British student leader Nathan Law and former lawmaker Ted Hui, who relocated to Australia, also called for a boycott.

“This is a selection, not an election,” Law told the British press. Sunday opening hours earlier this month.

Law speaks at US President Joe Biden’s Democracy Summit on December 10, a move that prompted Chinese state agency Xinhua to call him a traitor who will be “crucified on the pillar of historic shame.”

The Hong Kong government recently criminalized encouraging people to boycott elections or making them vote blank or no.

A spokesperson for ICAC, Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog, told AFP that the law applies “whether the behavior is committed in Hong Kong or elsewhere.”

This law does not prohibit Hong Kong people from canceling ballots or refusing to vote.

Authorities have tried to quash boycott calls this year, even overseas. Last week, the ICAC announced it would seek an arrest warrant against Hui for comments on social media endorsing a boycott. Three others were arrested in Hong Kong.

The ICAC chief also warned pollsters that even asking the public if they intended not to vote could break the law.

What good is it to have a so-called democracy if people are suffering, as we can see in some western democracies battling Covid-19

Xia Baolong, Beijing’s top Hong Kong policy official, said in a December 6 speech that the December 19 polls were “a vote of confidence in ‘one country, two systems’.” This phrase is the model used by China to grant the former British colony a certain level of autonomy.

Xia accused the protesters of “blindly pursuing Western-style democracy” and said the new system would ensure that “Hong Kong independence and anti-Chinese destabilization forces” are excluded.

China, a one-party state, often describes liberal democracies as chaotic, a sentiment that was echoed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

“What’s the use of having a so-called democracy if people are suffering, as you can see in some western democracies during the fight against Covid-19,” she said on December 7.

Polls suggest turnout could be at an all time high, which would be hailed by activists as a victory to express their opposition to the way Hong Kong is run.

Thirty-two percent of respondents to a recent poll by research group HKPORI said they definitely plan to vote, while 26 percent said they would definitely boycott.

The last time parliamentary elections were held in 2016, the turnout was 58%.

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