Over 3.7 million Hong Kongers go to the polls Sunday in the semi-autonomous city’s closest thing to a fully democratic vote, as stark political divisions widen.

pedeestrian pro-establishment campaign
A pedestrian sits on the staircase underneath two flags of the HKFTU. Photo: Chantal Yuen, HKFP.

With fears growing that Beijing is tightening its grip, some young activists are campaigning for a complete break from China. On the other side, pro-establishment parties warn they are risking the stability and prosperity of the finance hub.

Here are five key points on Legislative Council vote:

What’s so important about this election?

The election for members of Hong Kong‘s lawmaking body is the biggest public poll since the mass “Umbrella Movement” pro-democracy rallies of 2014, when Beijing and the city’s government brushed aside calls for political reforms.

It is the first time that young activists calling for independence for Hong Kong have stood in the vote.

See also: Explainer: The magic numbers of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election: 18, 24, 36

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Leung Chun-ying. Photo: GovHK.

Polls show that one or two of them could win seats — which would be a landmark for the fledgling movement.

How does the vote work?

Half the council’s 70 members will be directly voted by the public on Sunday and represent geographical constituencies. Pro-democracy candidates tend to fare well in these seats.

However, 30 other members are appointed by special interest groups, including transport, tourism and business sectors — who tend to be pro-Beijing.

The remaining five “super seats” are not attached to any constituency and will be on the ballot paper for all residents, except for those who have voted as part of the special interest groups.

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Photo: Reuters.
So, is Hong Kong really democratic?

A British colony for over 150 years until it was handed back to China in 1997, and semi-autonomous since then, Hong Kong has never experienced full democracy.

The system of having 30 members of the Legislative Council appointed by pro-Beijing special interest groups makes it almost impossible for the democratic camp to take a majority in the legislature.

Currently, pan-democratic lawmakers hold 27 of the Legco’s 70 seats, enabling them to block bills.

legco election candidates

But if they drop just four seats on Sunday, they will lose that veto power.

What does the city’s parliament do?

The traditional role of the Legislative Council is to introduce, examine, and approve bills, budgets and expenditures.

But frustrated pro-democracy lawmakers have long turned to filibustering to disrupt proceedings, delaying the passage of multiple bills.

Much of the previous council session was deadlocked, with the pro-establishment camp accusing the opposition of blocking progress and democrats slamming pro-government legislators as yes-men.

What is Beijing’s take on the vote?

Central Chinese authorities say pro-independence candidates are acting illegally, going against the city’s mini-constitution, and Beijing is likely to keep up pressure on the breakaway camp.

Some strident pro-independence activists have been banned from standing in Sunday’s election and the Hong Kong government has warned action may be taken against those who have advocated independence while campaigning.

However, if new young candidates draw support away from more established pro-democracy parties, it could work in Beijing’s favour, splitting the vote and giving more seats to pro-establishment candidates.

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