HONG KONG — From her first protest at age 12, Jackie Chen believed she could help bring democracy to Hong Kong. Each summer, she marched in demonstrations calling for universal suffrage. She eagerly cast her ballot in elections.
Now Ms. Chen, 44, is not sure if she will ever vote again.
“If we continue to participate in this game, it’s like we’re accepting what they’re doing,” she said. “That would make me feel like an accomplice.”
The Chinese government has upended the political landscape in Hong Kong, redefining the city’s relationship with democracy. Its plan to drastically overhaul the local electoral system, by demanding absolute loyalty from candidates running for office, is leaving factions across the political spectrum wondering what participation, if any, is still possible.
enshrined in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which pledges that universal suffrage is the “ultimate aim.”
Beijing has now made clear that it has no plans to meet that aim — at least, not on the terms that many Hong Kongers expected. The changes are also likely to slash the number of directly elected seats in the local legislature to their lowest levels since the British colonial era, meaning the majority of lawmakers would be picked by government allies.
Though officials still nod to universal suffrage, theirs is a circumscribed version. A Chinese official in Hong Kong suggested last week that establishment lawmakers chosen through small-circle elections, of the type favored by Beijing, were equivalent to those elected by the general public.
“The establishment camp is also pro-democracy,” the official, Song Ru’an, told reporters. “They’re all chosen through elections, and they all work on behalf of the people.”
Screening candidates would ensure that future politicians were more moderate, Mr. Choi said. “Right now we have people who want to mess things up,” he said, standing under a giant Chinese flag that his group had erected on a sidewalk in North Point, a working-class neighborhood where support for the government runs high.
“There will be a new pro-democracy wing that comes out, and they probably will actually want to act in the interests of the people,” Mr. Choi said.
Hong Kong’s electoral system has always been skewed in favor of the establishment, but many residents had still hoped their votes could send a message.