Hong Kong Electoral Changes Could Allow Voting from China

People queue to cast their vote during the district council elections in Tseung Kwan O district in Hong Kong on November 24, 2019. - Hong Kong's voters turned out in record numbers on November 24 for local council elections that the city's pro-democracy movement hopes will pile pressure on the …
YE AUNG THU/AFP via Getty Images

Newly suggested electoral changes in Hong Kong would allow Hong Kong citizens residing in China to vote in the city’s elections without returning home, local media reports suggested on Friday.

Hong Kong electoral rules do not currently allow overseas or mail-in voting.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, “will propose changing legislation to allow voting on the mainland when she makes her annual policy address next Wednesday,” Hong Kong’s Now TV cited a source as saying.

“[P]olling stations may be set up in Chinese cities in time for next year’s Legislative Council elections. Some would be located in the Greater Bay Area – a popular relocation choice for Hong Kong retirees due partly to lower property prices,” Now TV added.

Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong “attacked the reported plan” at a press conference on Thursday, “saying it was designed to help [pro-Chinese] government supporters. They vowed to vote against the amendment in the legislature and file a legal challenge if the bill passes,” Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported.

Dennis Kwok, who heads the Hong Kong legislature’s panel on administrative and legal services, said that a normal campaign process, in which material promoting certain political messages is circulated to voters, would be not be allowed in China.

“There is no Basic Law in China to protect our rights. Our ideas will not be able to get through to at least 15 percent of all voters,” he explained, referring to a Hong Kong charter protecting limited rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are nonexistent in China.

“[S]ome pro-democracy candidates without a home return permit allowing them to cross the border would be banned from campaigning in China,” further hampering a future election under the proposed voting changes, Hong Kong Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai explained to HKFP on Friday.

Wu said he believed that “the planned change was tailor-made to help pro-establishment [i.e. pro-China] lawmakers.”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement last year helped the city’s anti-China camp to secure a landslide victory in district council elections. At the height of protests denouncing Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy, pro-democracy lawmakers gained control of 17 out of 18 city districts.

“Elections for the higher-level Legislative Council were due to be held on September 6 this year but the government postponed them for a year, citing the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the decision was not politically motivated, even though 12 pro-democracy candidates were earlier barred from standing,” HKFP recalled on Friday.

Lam justified the election’s postponement, in part, by noting that “some Hong Kong citizens were stranded overseas and in mainland China due to travel restrictions” at the time and would therefore “not be able to return in time to vote.”

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