Disempowered Hong Kong voters plan to leave their ballots blank in Sunday’s “totally illegitimate” election as the only means left to express political opinions, according to a former legislator exiled in Australia.
Freedom of speech and the expression of political views has been stripped from the once independent city, where advocates are jailed for protesting against the introduction of a new Beijing-controlled legal system and critical media organisations and journalists forced to close or flee.
More than a year after the introduction of China’s legal clampdown, the National Security Law (NSL), which mandated local authorities to arrest anyone judged guilty of subversion, secession or terrorism, voters will head to the polls under the guise of democracy.
But nearly 7000km away, in a leafy Adelaide suburb under the glaring hot sun, political fugitive Ted Hui has implored his supporters to boycott the election by casting blank or invalid ballots.
Once an outspoken member of a functioning Legislative Council, Mr Hui’s condemnation of China’s assumption of Hong Kong law led to his arrest on 10 occasions.
In 2020, the former lawmaker fled his home as a political fugitive while on bail for protest-related crimes before eventually being granted a visa by the Morrison government.
The China-backed Hong Kong regime has adopted a vetting process to ensure all would-be candidates support the administration — branded as a “patriots only” Legislative Council election, where only those with support from the pro-Beijing movement are permitted to run for office.
“They look into what you have said openly in the past in front of media and on Facebook,” Mr Hui told News Corp from Adelaide. “It’s basically pushing everyone out of the system.
“If I want to run in elections, I need nominations by pro-Beijing candidates and pro-Beijing officials.
“If you’re in opposition, if you’re a dissident and you’re a freedom fighter, you’re not eligible to run.
“That’s why I would regard this coming so-called election totally illegitimate and the so-called parliament elected will be a total rubber stamp of Beijing.
“There is no democratic element at all.”
The political fugitive said the National Security Law was passed by Beijing, not the city’s parliament, and directly written into its mini constitution with a “huge impact on the fundamental rights of Hong Kong people”.
He said the legal overhaul “fundamentally changed the principle of common law”, stripping access to fair proceedings in a highly paranoid pursuit of quashing supposed collusion with foreign forces.
“For example, if you were sent to court with these charges, you don’t have the right to a jury trial — a jury trial is not guaranteed,” he said.
Since coming into effect, lawmakers who speak out against the pro-Beijing administration have been jailed and denied bail, with judges “cherry picked” to support the law, Mr Hui said.
“It has been used as a weapon for putting any opposition leader in jail immediately at the time of arrest, it’s a huge, huge threat to many of those who speak of freedom and democracy,” he said.
The “patriots only” election is the continuation of the authoritarian National Security Law, according to Mr Hui, with advocates unable to criticise the undemocratic election.
Disempowered and unable to express their views, advocates were implored by the former legislator to submit blank ballots or cast an invalid vote on Sunday.
“That is to make it clear that the will of the people is to not recognise and not endorse this election,” Mr Hui said.
The move has forced the regime to accuse those who encourage this practice with criminal offences and election interference.
An arrest warrant was issued for Mr Hui and others who encourage Hong Kongers to throw their vote have been arrested.
The city’s independent anti-corruption organisation — Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) — arrested 10 people who shared information advocating for blank ballots, including those who shared Mr Hui’s Facebook post.
But criticism of the electoral process was rejected by the Hong Kong government.
Earlier this month, Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, Xia Baolong, praised the revamped electoral system, spruiking its diversified pool of candidates and criticised the previous model, which he described as a blind pursuit of Western style democracy.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam described the upcoming elections as “competitive” with a diverse range of candidates from varied political backgrounds.
Lam said there was no “one size fits all in democracy”, declaring Hong Kong must be ruled under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the democratic system must abide by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Hong Kong, while being a part of China, is a special administrative region that exercises its own laws and has its own governing body.
The “patriot only” benchmark, however, cruelled voters of the pro-democratic movement which scored an overwhelming majority in the city’s last election in 2019, Mr Hui said.
The movement swept 389 of 452 elected seats as the government allies collapsed from 300 to claim just 58 seats.
“I still believe that if we adopt the old system and had not have changed the electoral systems, we would get an overwhelming landslide victory (in Sunday’s election),” Mr Hui said.
“And by boycotting it or by casting blank ballots, it shows the power of the people are still here and the spirit will go on.”