Asia Minute: Hong Kong: Protests, Laws and Elections

Nov 19, 2019

There’s been another dramatic turn of events in Hong Kong this week — where about a hundred protestors remain surrounded by police on a university campus. Some have been arrested, while local media report dozens were able to escape from police. But there are other developments beyond the violence.

Hong Kong’s highest court has ruled a government ban on protestors wearing face masks is unconstitutional. Monday’s court decision follows a move from the city’s government six weeks ago — outlawing masks as part of a rare emergency declaration.

Judges said the ban “represents a more serious inroad into protected rights than is reasonably necessary.”

Up next on Hong Kong’s political calendar: Election Day — this Sunday.

Voters will pick their District Council representatives. There are 452 across the city — each one representing about 17,000 constituents. These are direct elections, but they are low-level offices with limited political power — not crafting government policy.

Most of the time, District Council representatives focus on basic constituent services — responding to complaints and helping residents navigate different parts of the city bureaucracy. One exception is the role certain councilors play in the selection of Hong Kong’s chief executive — the next time that comes up is 2022.

For the past dozen years, the 18 district councils across the city have been dominated by pro-establishment candidates — many pro-democracy candidates have not even contested elections for seats.

This year’s election is already shaping up to be a different story.