1.7 million people took part in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy rally over the weekend, undeterred by torrential rain and the threat of a Chinese paramilitary presence stationed across the border. This comes as pro-Beijing rallies called for peace just across the water.
China has effectively brought Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to a dead end under the national security law in just half a year. Almost all of the major groups advocating for meaningful elections and freedom of expression have disbanded, while this weekend’s vote for the Legislative Council — the first under China’s new rules — will feature only Beijing-vetted candidates. The Dec. 19 election, however, features none of the pro-democracy figures that won seats in the last vote five years ago: Under Beijing’s new system, only “patriots” who “respect” Communist Party rule can run for office. While the Legislative Council was expanded to 90 members from 70, the number who are directly elected was reduced to 20 from 35. In the run-up to the vote, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declared that low voter turnout was actually a sign the government was doing well. Among the opposition parties that will not contest seats is the League of Social Democrats, once known for its confrontational style in the legislative chamber. Chan Po-ying took over as chairperson in July after several core party members were jailed or awaiting trial — including her husband, veteran activist Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung, who is serving a 23-month sentence after attending unauthorized protests in 2019 and 2020. “People ahead of me are all locked up,” Chan said. “I was happy working behind the scenes.”