Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party will not contest upcoming “patriot only” legislature elections after none of its members met the party’s own application deadline on Monday.
The decision means the December polls have been effectively boycotted by the city’s pro-democracy opposition with even the movement’s most moderate wing deciding it is not worth taking part.
The Democratic Party’s membership had been split on whether to continue with Hong Kong’s political process as authorities crack down on dissent in response to huge and often violent protests two years ago.
On Monday evening the party said no one had applied from its membership by the deadline.
One member, veteran Tiananmen Square activist Han Dongfang, previously said he wished to run but did not manage to secure enough nominations within the party.
The result is a blow for Hong Kong’s government, which has pushed the narrative that the once outspoken city remains politically pluralistic even as scores of opposition figures are jailed and disqualified from standing for office.
Most of Hong Kong’s major pro-democracy parties have either disbanded or seen their leadership decimated by arrests and prosecutions.
Under an overhaul imposed by Beijing earlier this year, only those deemed “staunch patriots” are allowed to take part in politics and anyone standing for public office must be vetted for national security risks.
The overhaul has also further reduced the number of directly elected seats in the city’s legislature from half to less than a quarter.
The rest will be appointed by reliably pro-Beijing committees and special interest groups that have been vetted for their political loyalty.
Beijing is sensitive to any move that might cast doubt on its new “patriots only” political model.
The government has warned that anyone who urges others to boycott the new polls could be prosecuted.
Last month a prominent Beijing adviser said the Democratic Party could open itself up to prosecution under Hong Kong’s new national security law if it declined to field candidates.
Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong last June to quash dissent after the city was upended by massive, often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019.
It says the law and new political vetting system has restored stability and wiped out “anti-China elements.”
Critics, including many Western powers, say the crackdown has eviscerated Beijing’s promise that Hong Kong could maintain certain freedoms and turned the finance hub into an authoritarian mirror of the mainland.