Almost everyone running for the Hong Kong electoral body which has the power to select the city’s next chief executive and its lawmakers will effectively be elected automatically, an analysis by HKFP has revealed.

Also, according to a veteran political analyst, the recent Beijing-inspired overhaul of the city’s electoral system has ensured that coordination among candidates filters out competition and offers certainty about the final outcome.

A government banner promoting the electoral overhaul, photographed outside the MacPherson Playground in Mong Kok. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

By the time the one-week nomination period ended on Thursday, Hong Kong’s election authority had received a total of 1,016 individual nominations. Next month, they will compete for 967 seats in 36 separate elections within subsectors that represent an array of special interest groups. The remaining 533 committee seats – out of the grand total of 1,500 seats – will be occupied by those nominated directly from designated organisations, and by ex officio members. All but three nominated candidates are pro-establishment figures.

In March 2021, Beijing passed legislation to overhaul Hong Kong’s election system so only “patriots” will govern the city. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a vetting panel to pre-approve candidates based on national security background checks.

The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity, although the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it almost impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

The NPC’s voting result on a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. File Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Under the new system, a 1,500-strong election committee will nominate, as well as elect, the city’s future chief executives and lawmakers.

No competition

Of the 1,016 contenders seeking election to the committee, 603 will be automatically elected with no competition, as the numbers of nominations to that of elected seats in their respective subsectors are identical.

File Photo: May James/HKFP.

Only 413 election candidates — running in 13 of the 36 electable subsectors — will be part of a contested race. While in theory, about 65 per cent of the seats on the election committee are produced by elections, in practice, only close to a quarter of the election committee members will have actually stood in a contested election.

A handful of subsectors will see more competition than others: while 72 candidates in the labour subsector are vying for 60 seats, those running for the “financial services” subsector will see only one candidate eliminated.

Some nominated candidates may also be eliminated before elections begin, if they do not get final clearance from a vetting panel that reviews their eligibility based on national security background checks.

List of automatically and contested subsectors – click to view.

Automatically elected subsectors

  • Catering
  • Commercial (first)
  • Commercial (second)
  • Employers’ Federation of Hong Kong
  • Finance
  • Hotel
  • Import and export
  • Industrial (first)
  • Industrial (second)
  • Real estate and construction
  • Small and medium enterprises
  • Textiles and garment
  • Tourism
  • Transport
  • Wholesale and retail
  • Accountancy
  • Engineering
  • Sports, performing arts, culture and publication
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Associations of Chinese fellow townsmen
  • Grassroots associations
  • Heung Yee Kuk
  • Representatives of Hong Kong members of relevant national organisations

Contested subsectors

  • Commercial (third)
  • Financial services
  • Insurance
  • Architectural, surveying, planning and landscape
  • Chinese medicine
  • Education
  • Legal
  • Medical and health services
  • Social welfare
  • Technology and innovation
  • Labour
  • Representatives of members of Area Committees, District Fight Crime Committees, and District Fire Safety Committees of Hong Kong and Kowloon
  • Representatives of members of Area Committees, District Fight Crime Committees, and District Fire Safety Committees of the New Territories
Ivan Choy. Photo: Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Political scientist Ivan Choy of Chinese University of Hong Kong told HKFP that the high proportion of candidates set to be automatically elected is intended by design, under the electoral overhaul.

The new election rules are geared towards ensuring that future elections will be conducted under a “higher ‘security index’ and level of control by reducing competition and uncertainties,” Choy said. “Having this many automatically-elected candidates means the system is taking its effect.”

Democrats who — despite restrictive election rules — ran for the election committee in the past are also embroiled by more pressing issues that threaten their survival, Choy said, leading to their lack of interest in taking part.

Drawing lots

“The degree of coordination [among nominated candidates] is high, as we can see many subsectors only have one list of candidates with the exact number of nominations for the seats required,” he said. “I believe such result fits [Beijing’s] expectations.”

Francis Chau (left), Tik chi-yuen (centre), Jason Poon (right). Photo: HKFP Remix.

Aside from committee seats returned by election, 156 will be chosen by direct nomination. However the election authority received a total of 231 nominations. Election officials will select the candidates “by drawing lots” and 75 people are expected to be eliminated in the process.

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, for example, submitted a total of 40 nominations on behalf of members who wanted to vie for a seat, even though it was only given 10 seats in the religious sector. The final nominations will be drawn out randomly by officials.

From 300 to 3

Contrary to 2016, when more than 300 pan-democrats took part in a race for a 1,200-seat election committee prior to the overhaul, this year’s small-circle contest will have three token candidates who are not part of pro-Beijing or establishment camps: they are the centrist party Third Side’s founder Tik Chi-yuen, pro-democracy Sai Kung district councillor Francis Chau, and Jason Poon, a construction company owner who blew the whistle on a scandal surrounding the MTR’s Shatin-Central Link construction in 2018.

DAB party thanking people’s support after the 2011 District Council Election. Photo: Facebook/DAB Tuen Mun Branch.

Factions on the side of the establishment will remain similar to the distribution in previous years. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) is leading with the most number of nominations — 90 nominated candidates, while the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions is trailing second with 82 nominations.

Choy said the pro-establishment camp may also have concerns over possible in-fighting if different parties had to compete against each other, which may be reflected in their willingness to coordinate for the nominations.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.