Mimi Lee had never voted in Hong Kong, where she was born and raised, but she plans to now. Ms. Lee and other Hong Kongers living in Canada are hoping to use their votes to support Hong Kong candidates who want to preserve the territory’s autonomy from Beijing’s interference.
Ms. Lee lives in Toronto, but she has registered to vote this fall in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, election and wants to travel there to cast her ballot in September.
“I am very eager to go back,” said Ms. Lee, who registered online to vote in December.
The deadline for new voter registrations is May 2. People are eligible to vote if they are permanent residents of Hong Kong, “ordinarily” reside there and are 18 years or older, a Hong Kong government spokesman said in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Lee has a Hong Kong address and believes she is eligible to vote. She hopes that many other overseas residents who qualify will vote as well. But their plans are subject to many unknowns right now, including whether the COVID-19 pandemic will make it impossible to get a flight – or even postpone the election.
The election is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 6, but Calvin Lee, spokesman for Hong Kong’s registration and electoral office, noted the pandemic is causing uncertainty.
“The situation of the COVID-19 epidemic is grim, and stepping up efforts to prevent and control the disease is the top priority of the Government and the Hong Kong community,” he wrote in the e-mailed statement.
“There is as yet no clear indication of when the epidemic will end. The Government’s primary focus now is to prevent and control the spread of the disease,” Mr. Lee said.
He said election planning is continuing “at full steam.” But he added: “We shall make timely assessment having regard to the specific circumstances including the development of the epidemic and its impact on the society, as well as the related risks on public health.”
Ms. Lee is an organizer of the Torontonian HongKongers Action Group and has been co-ordinating activities in the Toronto area to support Hong Kong’s anti-government movement since last June.
In recent weeks, Ms. Lee’s group, along with several other Hong Kong support organizations in Canada, have been using their social-media platforms to promote a campaign that mobilizes overseas Hong Kongers who are eligible to vote in Hong Kong elections to fly back and cast their ballots.
“The Legislative Council is an important part of Hong Kong’s legislative procedures … This legislative council election will determine the fate of Hong Kong in the next four years,” says a message posted on the vote4HK.World campaign Facebook page.
The newly established campaign lists five goals, including encouraging eligible voters around the globe to register before the May 2 deadline, and negotiating with airlines about group purchases of tickets to Hong Kong.
Of the Legislative Council’s 70 members who are responsible for enacting law and scrutinizing bills and spending, 35 are directly elected to represent five geographical constituencies, and the rest are largely selected by representatives from various sectors of the economy.
Leo Shin, associate professor of history and Asian studies at University of British Columbia, said overseas Hong Kongers will play a modest but still-important role in the coming election.
“Some will travel back to vote, but, just as important, they will play their part in social media, and they will help draw international attention to the ongoing political struggles in Hong Kong,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The 2016 census shows that Canada had 208,940 immigrants who were born in Hong Kong. Many still have close ties to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The September election is widely seen as a crucial battleground for both pro-democracy and pro-government camps in the protest-rocked city, especially after the territory witnessed a record turnout in its November district council elections with the pro-democracy candidates capturing 389 of 452 elected seats.
The results of the local elections inspired many, including Ms. Lee, to use votes to express their aspirations.
Grace moved back to her hometown Hong Kong in 2010 after living in Canada for four years. But she decided last year to return to Canada permanently after the Hong Kong administration proposed changes to an extradition law.
Grace, who doesn’t want her last name to be disclosed amid concerns of causing troubles for her family in Hong Kong, said she wants to cast her vote to show Beijing that Hong Kongers know what they want.
She said she plans to vote for legislators who can truly speak up for Hong Kong people.
Toronto resident Bill, a supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy advocates, has also registered. Bill, who doesn’t want his last name to be published for fear of being targeted by the Chinese or Hong Kong government, said he aims to go back to Hong Kong weeks before the election to do some electoral volunteer work.
He added he has been encouraging other eligible voters in Canada to spend their vacation money and time on a trip to Hong Kong.
As much as some of these overseas voters want to use their actions to recreate the pro-democrats’ victory in November, they acknowledge achieving such goal isn’t easy.
“It's going to be tough, very tough,” said Ms. Lee.
“At the end of the day, if you don't do anything, nothing is going to happen.”
Compared with the district council election, the legislative council election’s complex and restricted system allows Beijing to limit opposition and control who runs for office, making it difficult for the democracy camp to take a majority in LegCo.
“Certainly the pro-establishment camp will have learned its lessons and will approach the upcoming election accordingly. It’s also obvious that the Hong Kong Liaison Office of the central government will not be sitting idly by,” Prof. Shin said.
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