Pro-democracy movement comes up short

Pro-Beijing candidates

Pro-Beijing candidates

A low turnout in by-elections in Hong Kong on Sunday raised alarms among the city's pro-democracy camp as its candidates struggled to gain sufficient seats to win back a legislative veto bloc and a recount was ordered in one closely fought district.

Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong have won back only two of the four seats up for grabs in a crucial by-election. They're among six seats left empty when a group of lawmakers were expelled following a 2016 controversy over their oaths, which they used to defy China.

The vote came as China's National People's Congress voted to abolish constitutional term limits, leaving democracy supporters in Hong Kong more anxious about diminishing autonomy under the potentially indefinite rule of Xi Jinping.

Soon after polls opened, several men and a woman heckled Chow as well as leading pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) and Nathan Law (羅冠聰) near a polling station where they were supporting pro-democracy candidate Au Nok-hin (區諾軒), according to a reporter at the scene. He stepped in after election officials rejected the pro-democracy camp's marquee candidate, 21-year-old Agnes Chow, over her party's platform advocating "self-determination" for the former British colony, which she slammed as "political screening". The fourth seat was also taken by a pro-Beijing candidate.

However, pro-establishment politician Judy Chan (陳家珮), standing against Au, said the vote was a chance for "the silent majority, who are exhausted of a politicized Hong Kong, who detest those who humiliate the country" to push out destabilizing opponents.

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Some voters voiced concerns about the city's future in light of news that China's parliament had passed a constitutional change paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Beijing promised to let Hong Kong maintain wide autonomy and civil liberties following its 1997 handover from Britain.

The democrats' failure to regain veto power over most bills could effectively render the Hong Kong legislature a rubber-stamp parliament not unlike Beijing's National People's Congress. The two were among a wave of young activists who emerged from the massive but inconclusive 2014 "Umbrella Movement" demonstrations against Beijing's plans to restrict elections for Hong Kong's top leader. Voting otherwise went undisturbed for the election, which has attracted little attention — no opinion polls have been conducted and there was no televised debate by the city's largest broadcaster. A fourth seat, chosen by architects and surveyors, had turnout of almost 25 percent.

The legislature is fundamentally weighted towards Beijing as only half the 70 seats are elected. The two remaining seats have yet to be filled.

The four Legislative Council seats were once held by Yiu and other pro-democracy lawmakers who were ousted from public office over invalid oaths of office in a move critics said was politically motivated. He ended up losing to Vincent Cheng by just over 1 percent after an early morning recount on Monday.

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