Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s Semi-Democracy and Its Challenges

Hong Kong has experienced a decline in democracy since 2023, largely due to the introduction of the National Security Law by the Chinese government in 2020. This led to the arrest of at least 284 people and has resulted in the trial of 47 democrats for holding an unofficial primary for the Legislative Council election in 2020.

The government accused these detainees of plotting to commit subversion under the national security legislation. This has highlighted the paradoxical nature of elections in Hong Kong, where the government remains unelected while political parties aim for opposition status. The government also enacted drastic changes to District Councils in 2023, reducing directly elected seats from 452 to 88 out of 470, supposedly to improve local governance and bring about greater stability.

Candidates must now gain nominations from three committees in each district and be approved by the District Council Eligibility Review Committee to run for government, ensuring only patriots can run in elections. The Chinese government has implemented electoral reforms in Hong Kong, resulting in a significant reduction in the influence of ordinary citizens at the district level. The 2019 District Council elections saw a record voter turnout of 71%, leading to a victory for pan-democrats.

However, the pan-democratic camp did not register a single candidate in the December 2023 elections, as they failed to get nominations. The 2023 election resulted in a victory for major pro-Beijing parties, with 90% of elected candidates sitting on committees. Six arrested during Hong Kong elections for urging blank ballots and interfering with voting, while a computer system malfunction extended voting time, the Chinese government deemed the election a functioning democracy.

The case of Jimmy Lai in late 2023 highlighted the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong. Former Apple Daily owner charged with sedition and ‘collusion with foreign forces’ under National Security Law, causing Hong Kong’s media freedom ranking to drop from 80th to 148th in 2022.

The government also extended its reach over activists who had fled abroad, issuing a reward for the arrest of eight dissidents and five in December. Academic freedom was also severely impacted when the government refused to grant a working visa to Associate Professor Rowena He, forcing her employer, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to terminate her employment. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee, has announced plans to introduce a national security law, which will be mandated by the Basic Law. The law’s scope is uncertain, and concerns have been raised about potential repression.

Despite 2023’s rise in authoritarianism, positive developments have occurred, such as the government restraining attempts to declare the 2023 Gay Games a threat to national security, granting equal housing access to homosexual couples, and rejecting the government’s attempt to ban the protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. However, 2023 also showed signs of continued autocratization in the region, with the erosion of democratic values, tightening national security laws, and curtailing personal freedoms.

Hong KongHong Kong's Semi-Democracy and Its ChallengesNational Security LawSemi-Democracy