A “patriot” who is critical of the Hong Kong government will not be barred from standing in local elections, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said. Her remarks came after only one non-pro-establishment candidate was elected in Sunday’s small-circle election committee race.

The Hong Kong leader was met with questions on Tuesday about the first-ever polls since the Beijing-led electoral revamp, which saw 0.06 per of the city’s population casting ballots to select part of the powerful Election Committee that will be tasked with selecting the chief executive and 40 lawmakers.

Carrie Lam Mid-Autumn Festival
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a weekly press briefing on September 21, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Among the 364 candidates chosen, only former Democratic Party member Tik Chi-yuen – who won by drawing lots – was considered to be opposition-leaning. Lam hailed Sunday’s polls as fulfilling the goal of ensuring only “patriots” rule Hong Kong, but she said she could not give answers as to why there were no pro-democracy figures on the committee.

“Getting at the root of the matter, it is for ensuring patriots administer Hong Kong. There is no such thing as barring a patriot with a different political belief, who is more critical of the government, from running in elections,” Lam told reporters at a weekly press conference. “So regarding your question, I cannot answer it… when they didn’t run in the election, how can we allow these kind of people get elected?”

Most of Hong Kong’s opposition figures have been disqualified from election, jailed, are in self-exile abroad or are being held in remand over the 2020 pro-democracy primary polls.

The government welcomes anyone to stand in local elections, as long as they can meet the statutory requirement of patriotism, Lam said. She asked pro-democracy figures to “think seriously” about the requirements of swearing allegiance to the HKSAR and vowing to uphold the Basic Law – and whether they were “harsh requirements” – in the time leading up to the Legislative Council (LegCo) election in December.

election voting voters ballots polls election committee 2021 sept 19
Ballot counting for the Election Committee polls on September 19, 2021. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Under the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong, there are diverse voices… if they are patriots, and they work for the good of Hong Kong, of course we welcome them to run in the election. Whether they are qualified to run, it will be decided by the candidate eligibility review committee,” she said.

‘Tempestuous’ political situation

On Sunday, legislator Pierre Chan of the medical constituency announced he would not seek another term in the legislature, citing a “tempestuous” political situation in Hong Kong. The doctor is the only incumbent LegCo member who has no affiliation with the pro-establishment camp, following the recent disqualification of Cheng Chung-tai, who had localist roots, and a mass resignation of pan-democratic lawmakers last November.

The revamped electoral rules that prevent non-patriots from entering the local governance system were “more suitable” for Hong Kong, Lam told the press on Tuesday, despite previous criticism from activists and electoral experts who slammed the overhaul as a “regression in democracy.”

Carrie Lam Mid-Autumn Festival
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a weekly press briefing on September 21, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“To a certain extent, it is a democratic system that is more suited for Hong Kong’s special situation,” she said.

Poll glitches

Election officials spent around 14 hours counting the 4,380 ballots cast in Sunday’s election. Lam admitted there were “serious issues” with the ballot counting process and apologised to those who did not eat or sleep while waiting for the results.

She pledged that the authorities will urge the Electoral Affairs Commission to review the reasons for the delay in delivering the results, and would invite the personnel involved to give an explanation to the legislature.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.