The political elite of Hong Kong began voting on Sunday to choose new members of the local legislature reserved for patriots, under new rules that drastically reduce the number of elected seats and control who can run.
Voting centers opened across the city at 08:30 (00:30 GMT) with some 4.5 million registered voters, in the city of 7.5 million people.
They will remain open for 14 hours and polls anticipate that there will be low participation.
For the first time, voting centers were installed on the border with China so that voters in the continental territory could vote.
Under the rules, all candidates were vetted to verify their patriotism and political loyalty to China.
The new rules were imposed by China in response to the massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations of 2019 in Hong Kong.
Furthermore, only 20 of the 90 legislative seats will be directly chosen.
Most of the 40 seats will be chosen by a committee of 1,500 Beijing loyalists.
The remaining 30 seats will be elected by committeesBeijing representing business organizations and other sectors.
Daniel So, a 65-year-old man who works in technology, was among the first to line up at a polling place in the affluent Mid-Levels district.
“Young people are not very interested in this election because they are misled by foreign politicians and the press”He told AFP. “A China He is doing very well”.
But when the ruler of the city, Carrie Lam, went to vote, three protesters from the League of Social Democrats chanted: “I want genuine universal suffrage.”
“Lam said this improves the electoral system, but actually deprives Hong Kongers of their right to vote,” activist Chan Po-Ying told reporters.
The government paid for advertisements on the front pages of newspapers and outside billboards, sent flyers to homes and messages to mobile phones with calls to vote.
Press reports indicated that some large companies, such as Chinese banks, real estate conglomerates and the multinational accounting company KPMG, have called their employees to vote.
However, recent polls indicate that only 48% of those consulted intend to vote and 52% indicated that there was no candidate worthy of their vote.
In response, Lam told state press that low turnout could indicate that “The government is doing things well and its credibility is high.”
Sunday’s election received open support from Beijing, which considers the new system as a way to eliminate elements “anti China” and to restore order with a legislature free from disruptive opponents.
But critics reply that the authoritarian China it has practically banned opposition parties in a city that boasted of the diversity of its electoral scene.
Dozens of opposition figures, including some who won legislative seats in previous elections, have been jailed, disqualified or have fled abroad.