New Zealand joined its Five Eyes partners – US, UK, Canada and Australia – in expressing “grave concern” over the erosion of “democratic elements” in Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Candidates loyal to the Chinese Communist Party won a landslide victory in Hong Kong’s parliamentary elections after pro-democracy activists were jailed and authorities were given the power to exclude those deemed unsuitable for office.
Laws were changed to ensure that only pro-Beijing “patriots” could rule the city.
The Five Eyes Declaration on Tuesday (NZT) was released by New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, and the US Secretary of State.
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“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy threaten our common wish for Hong Kong to succeed,” the statement said.
“Since the handover, candidates with diverse political views have stood for election in Hong Kong. Yesterday’s elections reversed this trend.
An overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system introduced in 2021 had reduced the number of directly elected seats and established a new vetting process to severely restrict the choice of candidates on the ballot, thereby eliminating any significant political opposition.
Many of the city’s opposition politicians – notably the majority of the “NSL 47” – remained in jail awaiting trial, while others were in exile abroad, the statement said.
“We also remain gravely concerned about the broader deterrent effect of the National Security Law and the growing restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which are felt in civil society.
“NGOs, unions and human rights organizations that do not support the government’s agenda have been forced to disband or leave, while media freedoms are being curtailed at a steady pace. “
Protecting the space for peaceful alternative views is the most effective way to ensure Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, the statement said.
“We urge the People’s Republic of China to act in accordance with its international obligations to respect protected rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, including those guaranteed by the China-UK Joint Declaration.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told a press conference Monday (local time) that she was “happy” with the elections despite a turnout of 30.2% – the lowest since the British ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997.
She said the number of registered voters reached 92.5%, a record compared to the 2012 and 2016 elections, when around 70% of voters registered.
“For registered voters, deciding whether they want to exercise their right to vote in a particular election is a matter of themselves,” she said.
“In this election, 1.35 million voters voted. They didn’t just send whatever candidates they wanted to LegCo, and I think it was also because of their support for improving the electoral system, ”Lam said, referring to the city’s Legislative Council.
Under the new laws, the number of directly elected legislators has increased from 35 to 20, even as the legislature has grown from 70 to 90 seats. Most lawmakers have been appointed by largely pro-Beijing bodies, ensuring they constitute the majority of the legislature.
All the candidates were also reviewed by a largely pro-Beijing committee before they could be nominated.
Lam said that even though there was a high turnout based on “bad politics,” such as political polarization during the time of political turmoil in 2019, it is “not something we should be happy about. ‘to have “.
Starry Lee, an elected candidate for the pro-Beijing legislative council of the Democratic Alliance for the Improvement and Progress of Hong Kong, said the 30% turnout was in line with “general public expectations.”
“As I mentioned before, this is a new system, it is a system that we call the Patriots administering Hong Kong,” Lee said.
“This is different from the previous one, so you can’t compare directly. And I think with the new system people need some time to get used to it. “
The opposition camp criticized the elections, as the largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, failed to field a candidate for the first time since the 1997 transfer.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said there were “several reasons” for the decline in voter turnout.
“It is not only the impact of the pandemic, but also the disruption and sabotage of anti-Chinese elements in Hong Kong and outside forces,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.
Some pro-democracy activists abroad, including London-based Nathan Law, called for a boycott of the vote, saying the elections were undemocratic. Under the new election laws, incitement to boycott the ballot or cast invalid votes could be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of HK $ 200,000. ($ 26,500).
Lam said she expects working with the 90 lawmakers to be “very exciting” because they have different opinions on many social issues.
Lam was due to travel to Beijing on Monday later as part of a reporting trip, which she said should give Beijing a full account of the latest political and economic situation in Hong Kong.
“I expect to cover a wide range of issues on this particular service visit because thanks to two very decisive acts by central authorities, Hong Kong is now back on track ‘of one country, two systems'” , she said.
– with PA