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Hong Kongers voted in the city’s first “patriots only” district council elections Sunday, a vote that saw the absence of pro-democracy candidates after Beijing tightened its control of the semi-autonomous territory, Al Jazeera reported.

Voters were restricted to only choosing pro-China candidates, with turnout being only a little more than 27 percent, according to Reuters.

The election came months after the city introduced an electoral overhaul that allowed only hand-picked Beijing loyalists to run for the council. Even so, only 88 of 470 seats will be directly elected and candidates must be approved by government-appointed committees.

The Democratic Party – Hong Kong’s biggest opposition party – failed to secure nominations for any of its candidates. Meanwhile, centrist and pro-Beijing moderate candidates also complained of being shut out by the new rules.

Meanwhile, the territory’s pro-China government mobilized thousands of officers to patrol across the city and warned against any attempts to undermine the vote. Police arrested three members of the League of Social Democrats after it announced plans to demonstrate outside a polling station.

Exiled pro-democracy activists lamented that the polls were “a complete joke.”

Sunday’s vote and electoral overhaul underscores mainland China’s ongoing efforts to secure its hold on the former British colony in recent years.

In 2019, Hong Kong experienced mass protests over Beijing’s encroachment of the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms, which is supposed to enjoy freedoms not found in mainland China under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.”

During that year’s district elections, pro-democracy candidates won by a landslide, dealing a blow to the pro-Beijing establishment. Turnout for that election was 71 percent – the highest in Hong Kong’s history.

In response, China passed a controversial national security law in 2020 that has nearly wiped out democratic activism in Hong Kong, with many activists being arrested and others forced into exile.

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