Hong Kong's leader defended the rules for upcoming local elections as open and fair on Tuesday after an electoral overhaul effectively barred the city's remaining pro-democracy activists from joining the race.
The city's largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, will be absent in December's district council election for the first time since its establishment in 1994. Party chair Lo Kin-hei said he and other members could not secure enough nominations under the new rules authorities introduced to ensure that patriots administer Hong Kong." Other smaller groups from the camp had the same problem.
Chief Executive John Lee said at a weekly news briefing that candidates have to respect the decisions of the people they sought nomination from.
It is up to you to ensure that you can convince the person you want to convince, he said.
The district councils were the last major political representative bodies chosen by the public. Under the electoral overhaul, most directly elected seats in the municipal-level organization have been eliminated.
The lack of participation from pan-democrats reflects the dwindling space for the city's pro-democracy movement under a government crackdown on dissidents following the anti-government protests in 2019.
To enter the race, candidates have to secure endorsements from at least nine members of local committees that are packed with pro-government figures. Some pro-government politicians, including lawmaker Michael Tien, also said it was challenging for their groups to secure nominations.
Elections for the district council seats typically draw little international attention as the councilors mainly handled municipal matters, such as organizing construction projects and ensuring that public facilities are in order. But the councils took on importance after the city's pro-democracy camp won a landslide victory in the last poll at the height of the 2019 protests. The camp then hailed its strong gains in the race as a victory for the Hong Kong people.