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New Zealand joins Five Eyes partners who express “great concern” about the Hong Kong elections

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New Zealand has joined its Five Eyes partners – the US, UK, Canada and Australia – to express “serious concerns” about the erosion of “democratic elements” in the Hong Kong electoral system.

Candidates loyal to the Chinese Communist Party won a landslide victory in the Hong Kong general election after democracy activists were jailed and authorities were empowered to expel those deemed unfit for office.

Laws were changed to ensure that only pro-Beijing “patriots” could rule the city.

Container ships are anchored in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor in November.

Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

Container ships are anchored in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in November.

The Five Eyes statement on Tuesday (NZT) was made by New Zealand Secretary of State Nanaia Mahuta, Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, Australia and Canada, and the US Secretary of State.

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“Measures that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high levels of autonomy threaten our shared desire to see Hong Kong successful,” the statement said.

“Since the handover, candidates with different political views have taken part in the elections in Hong Kong. Yesterday’s election reversed this trend. “

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a post-election press conference.  Lam said she was

Vincent Yu / AP

Hong Kong Prime Minister Carrie Lam at a post-election press conference. Lam said she was “happy” with the election, despite a 30.2 percent turnout, the lowest since the British surrendered Hong Kong to China in 1997.

A revision of the Hong Kong electoral system introduced in 2021 had reduced the number of directly elected seats and introduced a new screening process to severely restrict the choice of candidates on the ballot and eliminate any significant political opposition.

Many of the city’s opposition politicians – above all the majority of the “NSL 47” – remained in prison until the trial, while others were in exile overseas, the statement said.

“We remain deeply concerned about the widespread deterrent effect of the National Security Act and the increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly that are being felt across civil society.

New Zealand Secretary of State Nanaia Mahuta met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC in November.

Delivered / material

New Zealand Secretary of State Nanaia Mahuta met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington DC in November.

“NGOs, trade unions and human rights organizations that do not support the government’s agenda have been forced to disband or leave as media freedoms become more and more restricted.”

Protecting the space for peaceful alternative views is the most effective way to ensure the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong, the statement said.

“We urge the People’s Republic of China to act in accordance with its international commitments to respect the protected rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, including those guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Members of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), including Starry Lee Wai-king, fifth from right, clap during a press conference after winning 19 seats in the elections.

Vincent Yu / AP

Members of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), including Starry Lee Wai-king, fifth from right, clap during a press conference after winning 19 seats in the elections.

Hong Kong Prime Minister Carrie Lam said at a press conference on Monday (local time) that she was “satisfied” with the election despite a 30.2 percent turnout – the lowest election since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.

She said the number of registered voters had reached 92.5 percent, a record high compared to the 2012 and 2016 elections when around 70 percent of voters registered.

“For registered voters, whether or not to exercise their right to vote in a particular election is entirely a matter of choice,” she said.

Members of the Beijing Hong Kong Trade Union Confederation, including Stanley Ng Chau-pei (center, front), at a post-election press conference.

Kin Cheung / AP

Members of the Beijing Hong Kong Trade Union Confederation, including Stanley Ng Chau-pei (center, front), at a post-election press conference.

“In this election, 1.35 million voters cast their votes. Not only did they send candidates of their choice back to the LegCo, and I think it was also because of their support for the improved electoral system, ”Lam said, referring to the city’s Legislative Council.

With the new laws, the number of directly elected MPs has been reduced from 35 to 20, while the legislature has been extended from 70 to 90 seats. Most lawmakers have been appointed by largely pro-Beijing bodies, which has ensured that they make up the majority of the legislature.

All candidates were also examined by a largely pro-Beijing committee before they could be nominated.

Members of the New People's Party pose for a photo after the election.

Kin Cheung / AP

Members of the New People’s Party pose for a photo after the election.

Lam said that even if there was a high turnout based on “bad politics”, such as the political polarization during the political turmoil in 2019, it was “not something to be excited about”.

Starry Lee, an elected pro-Beijing candidate for the Legislative Council of the Democratic Alliance for the Improvement and Progress of Hong Kong, said the 30% turnout was in line with “general public expectations.”

“As I mentioned earlier, this is a new system, this is what we call Patriots who run Hong Kong,” Lee said.

People are queuing outside a polling station in Hong Kong on Sunday (local time) to cast their vote.

Vincent Yu / AP

People are queuing outside a polling station in Hong Kong on Sunday (local time) to cast their vote.

“This is different from the previous one, so you cannot compare directly. And I believe that with the new system people will need time to get used to it. “

The opposition camp criticized the elections, with the largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party, failing to run for the first time since the 1997 transfer of power.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said there were “multiple reasons” for the drop in voter turnout.

“It’s not just the impact of the pandemic, but also the disruption and sabotage of anti-Chinese elements in Hong Kong and outside forces,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.

Residents walk past pro-Beijing candidate Vincent Cheng Wing-shun (center) on election Sunday (local time).

Kin Cheung / AP

Residents walk past pro-Beijing candidate Vincent Cheng Wing-shun (center) on election Sunday (local time).

Some foreign pro-democracy activists, including London-based Nathan Law, called for a boycott of the elections, saying the elections were undemocratic. Under the new electoral law, incitement to boycott the elections or cast invalid votes could result in up to three years in prison and a fine of Hong Kong dollars 200,000 (US $ 26,500).

Lam said she expected working with the 90 legislators to be “very exciting” because they have different opinions on a wide range of societal issues.

Lam was due to travel to Beijing later on Monday to give Beijing a full report on the latest political and economic situation in Hong Kong.

“I expect to cover a wide range of topics on this particular service visit as Hong Kong is now back on track from ‘one country, two systems’ through two very crucial actions by the central authorities,” she said.

– with AP

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