Hong Kong’s democrats have dubbed Sunday’s legislative by-election a referendum on Beijing’s intervention in the city’s affairs and the disqualification of elected lawmakers. Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing camp has made an emergency appeal urging their supporters to cast their ballot.
The election was sparked by a Basic Law interpretation issued by Beijing relating to the lawmaker oath-taking process. Six democratically-elected lawmakers were subsequently ousted from the legislature. Four seats are up for grabs on Sunday whilst two ejected lawmakers continue legal appeals.
Both camps expressed concerns over the subdued atmosphere just a day ahead of the election. According to past election results, a higher turnout rate usually benefits the pro-democracy camp – however, by-elections usually attract a lower turnout rate.
Pro-democracy ex-lawmaker Margaret Ng said at a joint rally on Saturday in Tsim Sha Tsui that many Hongkongers believed the public lacked the power to monitor the government, as it has adequate support from the pro-Beijing camp to pass any laws or bar candidates from running.
During the run-up to the current by-election, Demosisto’s Agnes Chow was barred from running, with election authorities citing her party’s advocacy of self-determination as the reason. Beijing deems the idea equal to promoting Hong Kong independence. Two localists – Ventus Lau and James Chan – were also barred over their previous pro-independence stance, despite shunning their past remarks shortly before seeking to enter the race.
Ng said the public should vote on Sunday as it was the only way to express their discontent.
“You disqualify them… and we’ll vote them in again with double the number of votes,” she said. “Your vote has power – you only lose power when you give up your vote.”
The four pro-democracy candidates have all come under attack in recent days.
Au Nok-hin, who was endorsed by the democrats to replace Chow to run in Hong Kong Island, has said pro-Beijing candidate Judy Chan launched a smear campaign against him, whilst Chan reported Au to the anti-graft agency after Au altered Chan’s election slogan in a social media post.
The Neo Democrats’ candidate Gary Fan, who is running in New Territories East, said his team discovered at least 50 banners claiming “Gary Fan is not a representative of the pro-democracy camp,” and insisting voters should not vote for him.
Fan said that the banners were an organised attack and he expected more to appear on Sunday: “These smearing banners are completely untrue.”
“We are not very optimistic about the election – the situation is very dangerous, we have to make an emergency appeal,” Fan said. “We hope New Territories East voters see clearly through all these smears.”
Fan also hit back at some localists who have called for a “scorched-earth strategy” by casting blank protest votes instead of voting for Fan. They have criticised Fan for claiming to be a “pragmatic localist.”
“It will only help the pro-Beijing camp,” Fan said.
The pro-Beijing camp candidates also made emergency appeals.
Chan said her competition with her rival was fierce: “We need more support in order to win. I hope voters – who did not vote in the past – vote tomorrow [Sunday] for Hong Kong.”
“The Legislative Council must return to order and become effective again to solve Hong Kong’s livelihood issues.”
Other candidates are listed here. Tune into HKFP’s live blog from 10am Sunday.
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