The Associated PressHONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong residents voted Sunday in by-elections that give opposition supporters the chance to recapture lost ground in a contest measuring voters’ appetite for democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
The vote pits pro-Beijing loyalists against opposition candidates competing for four seats in the city’s semi-democratic legislature. They are among six seats left empty when a group of lawmakers were expelled following a 2016 controversy over their oaths, which they used to defy China.
The ejected members included two advocating Hong Kong’s independence, something China’s President Xi Jinping has called a “red line.”
In the vote’s main battleground, little known activist Au Nok-hin, a neighborhood councilor, is competing against pro-Beijing rival Judy Chan. He was enlisted at the last moment after officials disqualified the pro-democracy camp’s marquee candidate, 21-year-old Agnes Chow, because she advocated for Hong Kongers to determine their own future.
“This election is not just a normal election; it is a battle between the pro-Beijing camp and the pro-democracy camp,” Chow said. It’s “also a very important choice for Hong Kong people for whether they want rule of law or rule by the Communist Party.”
Chow said Hong Kong’s younger generation hoped for democratic development. But that prospect looks increasingly distant after Xi prepared to abolish term limits, allowing him to remain president indefinitely.
Chow had intended to stand for the seat vacated after the disqualification of Nathan Law, a fellow member of their Demosisto party who became Hong Kong’s youngest-ever lawmaker. The two were among a wave of young activists who emerged from the massive but inconclusive 2014 “Umbrella Movement” demonstrations against Beijing’s plans to restrict elections for Hong Kong’s top leader.
Under the “one country, two systems” framework, Beijing promised to let Hong Kong maintain wide autonomy and civil liberties following its 1997 handover from Britain. Fears are rising that China’s communist leaders are backtracking.
A handful of pro-democracy supporters protested outside the polling station where the city’s top leader, Carrie Lam, cast her ballot and some pro-Beijing supporters heckled noted democracy activist Joshua Wong outside a campaign stop. Speech