Hong Kong’s 2020 Legislative Council elections will be the first vote to take place under the shadow of the new national security law—and they’re just two months away.
The elections will be a bellwether of support for the anti-government movement, which has lost significant steam on the streets amid the COVID-19 outbreak and Beijing’s hardened stance.
This weekend (July 11 and 12), the pro-democracy camp is holding a two-day pre-election primary to gauge public sentiment for 51 candidates who have applied to run in the September 6 elections.
Residents may vote at the 250 polling stations spread across Hong Kong island, Kowloon and New Territories by showing their Hong Kong identity card and proof of address.
【民主派35+公民投票 (初選)】正式公佈投票程序 及 250多個服務站名單 (將持續更新)由 #戴耀廷副教授 及 #區諾軒前立法會議員 委託 #民主動力 承辦，18區民主派區議會主席、副主席及民選議員全力支持，#香港民意研究所…
How will the pre-elections work?
A total of 51 candidates will run, representing five district constituencies (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, Kowloon East, New Territories West and New Territories East), the “superseat” constituency and the health services functional constituency.
The number of candidates qualify to take part in the September elections after the primary will depend on each constituency.
For example, of the eight running in the Hong Kong island constituency, the top six with the most number of votes will represent the pro-democracy camp in the Legislative Council (LegCo) vote.
The New Territories East constituency is the most crowded field—of the 12 candidates, the top seven will participate.
Why is the pre-election important?
The pre-election will help prevent the problem of vote-splitting among the large pool of pro-democracy candidates, which would cause the party to win fewer seats overall. A primary election will weed out those who don’t stand a chance of winning the September election anyway such that they do not “rob” votes that would be more meaningful in the hands of frontrunners.
The road to, and the preliminary vote itself, is also a chance for candidates to increase their public profile through taking part in heated online debates and canvassing in their districts. These opportunities are especially valuable to political newcomers who are relatively unknown in the field.
Read more: Looking Back: Occupy Central in 20 photos
What is “35+”?
“35+” is the pro-democracy camp’s aim for September’s elections, symbolizing the goal of achieving at least 35 of the 70 seats in the Legislative Council. With a majority, pan-democrats would have meaningful veto power, allowing them to potentially block unpopular bill—like the national anthem legislation—from passing into law.
The camp aims to repeat the success of last year’s district council elections, when democrats rode off popular support for the protest movement and won a landslide victory against the beleaguered pro-Beijing camp.
In the words of Benny Tai, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, “35+” would be a “massive constitutional weapon.”
The hope is that a majority would allow the legislature to force democratic reform—although the recent passing of the national security law, which was drafted in Beijing and bypassed the city’s LegCo, calls in to question how much legitimate power the city’s lawmakers truly have.
But will elected candidates face disqualification?
Even if candidates pass the pre-election screening, they still face the risk of being disqualified ahead of the September vote. In 2016, localist Edward Leung was barred from running in the LegCo race even though he signed a controversial form acknowledging that Hong Kong as an “inalienable” part of China.
It is expected that candidates will be subject to even tighter screening under the newly-enacted national security law. In June, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, hinted that candidates who oppose the security law could be barred from running in the polls, South China Morning Post reported.
Candidates may even be arrested by joining the pre-election, Tsang told Wen Wei Po Thursday, as the primaries might violate the elections ordinance and contravene the national security law.
Who are some of the faces of the pre-election?
The 2016 LegCo elections were significantly influenced by the post-Umbrella Movement landscape, seeing a number of aspiring, young politicians inspired to take up political leadership. A number joined the election and eventually won seats in the lawmaking body.
The 2020 election may be poised for similar result.
One of the candidates is Jimmy Sham, the convener of Civil Humans Rights Front—the group that organized a number of major marches at the start of last year’s anti-extradition protests.
Last year, he was elected to the Sha Tin district council. He is also openly gay, and an active campaigner for LGBT rights in Hong Kong.
Sham is campaigning in the Kowloon West constituency.
Ventus Lau Wing-hong
Another familiar face is Ventus Lau Wing-hong, the convenor of Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team.
This is not the first time Lau has indicated interest in running for LegCo. In 2018, he participated in the New Territories East by-election, but his candidacy was disqualified because of his previous support Hong Kong independence.
He is running for a seat in the New Territories East constituency.
Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam
As a former journalist, Ho is used to being behind the camera, not in front of it. She was one of the victims of the July 21 Yuen Long attack—that day, the ex-Stand News reporter was live-streaming the incident when she herself was assaulted by white-shirted triad members.
“I took down my journalist identity as I want to be part of the resistance and walk with Hongkongers to face our common destiny together,” Ho wrote in a Facebook post announcing her campaign.
She is running in the New Territories East constituency.
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