Hong Kong, March 11
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp is trying to claw back lost seats in controversial by-elections held today that have exposed the heart of the city’s political divide.
The vote comes as China takes a tough line against any challenges to its sovereignty, with high-profile young candidate Agnes Chow barred from standing because her party promotes self-determination for the semi-autonomous city.
The atmosphere was tense on Sunday when a small group of people heckled Chow as well as leading pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law near a polling station.
One of the men barged into Wong, who was one of the student leaders during mass demonstrations in 2014 calling for greater democratic freedoms. “When there is a restriction on freedom of speech and we face more suppression on civil disobedience and protest in the streets, it proves that it’s more necessary for us to vote,” Wong said.
Beijing has become increasingly incensed at the emergence of activists advocating independence and sees calls for self-determination as part of a dangerous splittist push.
The by-election was triggered after Beijing forced the disqualification of six rebel lawmakers who had swept to victory in the citywide elections in 2016. Some were former protest leaders, others openly advocated independence. All were ousted from their posts for inserting protests into their oaths of office. Four of the six vacant seats are being contested on Sunday.
“The election is not just about selecting me as a candidate, it is also about voting for justice,” said Au Nok-hin, who stepped in to contest the Hong Kong Island seat after Agnes Chow was disallowed. The seat was originally held by Law, also a 2014 protest leader, who was among the six thrown out of office.
But pro-establishment politician Judy Chan, standing against Au, cast the opposition as provoking “violence and resistance”. “The by-election is a chance for the silent majority, who are tired of a politicised Hong Kong, who detest those who humiliate the country, to come out and tell those politicians that Hong Kong has no room for them,” Chan said.
The six lawmakers were retrospectively barred from office by Hong Kong’s high court after Beijing issued a special “interpretation” of the city’s mini-constitution stipulating legislators had to take their oath “solemnly and sincerely” or face being banned.