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Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways is offering discounted fares from mainland China to the territory to help authorities boost voting turnout in a “patriots only” local election next month.
The incentive highlights concerns among Chinese officials about a lack of public enthusiasm for the elections on December 10. As part of Beijing’s tightening control of the former British colony, most directly elected district council seats have been scrapped and pro-democracy candidates barred from contesting the remainder.
This month, China’s top official for Hong Kong Xia Baolong told Merlin Swire, former chair of Swire group, which controls Cathay Pacific, that it should “contribute more to Hong Kong’s economic and social development”.
The city’s business community is increasingly keen to be seen as supportive of authorities in the city since Beijing responded to citywide pro-democracy protests in 2019 by imposing a sweeping national security law that in effect silenced dissent.
A pro-Beijing community federation said in a social media post this week that Cathay Pacific was offering a discount of up to 10 per cent for return flights from mainland China to Hong Kong between December 5 and 20.
Hong Kong voters living outside the city must return to it to take part in elections.
Asked about the promotion, Cathay Pacific said on Friday the airline’s aim was to facilitate people from Hong Kong who were residing in mainland China to “actively participate” in the district council election.
Beijing declared in 2021 that “Hong Kong must be run by patriots, while anti-China saboteurs must be shut out”. However, officials in the territory are increasingly concerned that turnout may be low for next month’s district elections, the first held under the “patriots only” system that bars any candidate deemed disloyal to Beijing from participating.
Political analysts have forecast a turnout of about 20 per cent or possibly even lower. The previous district-level election in 2019, which was won in a landslide by the pro-democracy camp, had a record turnout of 71 per cent.
Officials said the district election was the “last piece of the puzzle” in the territory’s political overhaul. The city held the first “patriots” election for its legislature in 2021, a vote that in effect left no opposition lawmakers.
Ahead of the 2021 election, large companies including Big Four auditing firm KPMG sought to help official efforts to boost participation by offering staff a day off work if they voted. Turnout in 2021 was 30 per cent compared with 58 per cent at the previous legislative election in 2016.
Cathay Pacific, which on Friday forecast it would this year record its first annual profit since before the coronavirus pandemic, came under pressure from Beijing during the 2019 protests for initially saying that it would not stop staff from taking part. It later fired some employees for their alleged involvement.