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HK's main pro-democracy party shut out of local polls

Pro-democracy parties won the 2019 district council elections in a landslide amidst massive and at times violent protests

The Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party. (Photo: HKFP)

Published: October 31, 2023 05:04 AM GMT

Updated: October 31, 2023 05:08 AM GMT

No candidates from Hong Kong's main pro-democracy party will be allowed to contest upcoming local elections, the party said, after a new, Beijing-backed nomination process closed on Monday.

Pro-democracy parties won the last district council elections in 2019 in a landslide, with the polls held at the peak of massive and at times violent protests calling for greater political freedoms.

Since then, Beijing has moved to quell dissent in the city, imposing a national security law and overhauling the electoral process in a way that allows it to weed out those considered disloyal to the Chinese government.

To stand for the 88 directly elected seats, candidates must undergo a strict two-week nomination process and receive the approval of at least nine members of three government-appointed committees within their constituency.

Critics, including the United States and European Union, see the revamp as further consolidating Beijing's authoritarian grip on the city.

By Monday evening, the Democratic Party -- the oldest and largest group in the pro-democracy camp -- said all six of their candidates had "failed to secure sufficient nominations".

"Although some candidates received nominations from some of the three committees' members, they couldn't meet the requirement," said chairperson Lo Kin-hei.

Of the 172 candidates who have applied to take part in December's elections, more than 70 percent were themselves members of the three committees, according to a tally kept by AFP.

More than a quarter of the candidates who successfully entered to stand in December's direct elections were from DAB, Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing party, which declined to disclose how many of its party members were in the committees.

Some centrist and pro-government groups, however, said they also faced difficulty getting their candidates past the committees.

The Third Side, a small centrist group founded by serving legislator Tik Chi-yuen, withdrew from the process last Friday, saying it was impossible for its two candidates to secure nominations.

Pro-government groups Path of Democracy and RoundTable both saw only one of their candidates pass muster at the nomination stage.

RoundTable founder Michael Tien criticized nomination committee members, saying some "refused to even listen to us".

Path of Democracy leader Ronny Tong questioned whether the committees had been given too large a task.

"I believe it's also very difficult for the three committees' members... especially when this is the first election (after the overhaul)," Tong told AFP.

Kwok Wai-shing, a candidate with small pro-democracy party ADPL, said he has not been able to get any nominators to support him.

"The system is asking me to get nominations from my rivals, would they do that?" he said. "The scale is tilted and people can see that clearly."

City leader John Lee last week defended the election's "openness and fairness".

"The candidates (who haven't got any nominations) should study themselves and find out their problems," Lee said, adding that nominators had to consider if a candidate is "someone who loves China and Hong Kong".

In 2021, more than 300 directly elected district council members resigned or were unseated by the government after the authorities demanded that they pledge loyalty to Beijing.

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