HONG KONG (AFP) – World powers slammed Hong Kong’s closely scrutinised legislature vote on Monday, saying Beijing-imposed procedures that cut directly elected seats and limited who could run had degraded democracy in the Chinese colony.

In reaction to massive and frequently deadly democratic rallies two years ago, China oversaw a comprehensive crackdown in Hong Kong.

It implemented a national security statute in the former British colony, criminalising much dissent, and instituted political norms that scrutinise the loyalty of anybody running for government.

The first public vote under this new arrangement was held for the municipal legislature on Sunday, with a historic low turnout and a reduction in the number of individuals directly elected from half to 22 percent.

Figures suggest that just 30% of the electorate voted, the lowest number since both the city’s 1997 transfer to China and the British colonial era.

Turnout in the previous parliamentary votes in 2016 was 58 percent, but pro-democracy figures won a landslide in 2019 district council elections with a record 71 percent.

Following the election, the foreign ministers of the G7 group of the world’s most industrialised nations voiced “grave worry about the loss of democratic aspects” in Hong Kong’s electoral system.

The new vetting procedure “to significantly restrict the choice of candidates on the vote paper undercut Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy” under the “One Country, Two Systems” concept agreed upon for the territory’s transfer from the UK to China in 1997.

Foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States urged China to “establish trust in Hong Kong’s political institutions and halt the unjust mistreatment of people who support democratic ideals and the defence of rights and freedoms.”

In a statement, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the poll was “yet another step in the dismantling of the One Country Two Systems principle,” and he called for Hong Kong to have a “high degree of autonomy as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, and the rule of law.”

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