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Updated Dec 9, 2023, 11:59am EST
politicsEast Asia
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Will voters show up for Hong Kong’s ‘patriots-only’ election?

Hong Kong will hold local elections on Sunday — a test of the city’s enthusiasm towards a “patriots only” system that has effectively prevented opposition candidates from running.

Residents will vote for fewer than 20% of the city’s 470 district council seats, while the rest will be chosen by Hong Kong’s chief executive John Lee. Candidates deemed disloyal to Beijing are barred from standing — although many of them are already in self-exile, or behind bars.

Analysts predict that turnout on Sunday will be less than 30% — down from more than 70% in 2019, when opposition leaders won by a landslide.

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REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
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Hong Kong’s government has rolled out a series of incentives to encourage locals to vote. Authorities have organized free concerts and fun fairs to “create a happy atmosphere,” VOA reports, and have offered nursing homes one-off allowances of HK$2,500 ($320 USD) to help senior citizens cast ballots. The city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has offered discounted airfares from China to Hong Kong to make it easier for residents based on the mainland to return to the city to vote. Despite these efforts, many say they won’t participate. “If I voted in the election, it would seem like I support the government’s efforts to tighten control over Hong Kong’s civil society,” one Hong Konger told VOA, with another saying the elections are simply seeking to “reinforce the government’s control” while so-called patriots reap the benefits.

The upcoming elections are “a parody of democracy,” one Hong Kong-based analyst told the Financial Times, saying that residents “don’t have a voice anymore” — with their only options to show loyalty to the government or leave the city. A professor at Johns Hopkins University told the FT that the notion of a “free election in Hong Kong is dead” and that the government’s efforts to encourage voting are unlikely to yield results. Authorities are cracking down on those calling for a veto of the election —arresting a 38-year-old man for inciting a boycott while an exiled political commentator has been placed on a wanted list.

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