Farmers, fishers play key role in Hong Kong voting

HONG KONG – Since China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the city’s billionaires have played a leading role in hew­ing the Asian financial cen­ter to Beijing’s priorities. So too have a dwindling band of fishermen and farmers.

The desire of China’s com­munist leaders to enlist the tycoons’ cooperation is un­derstandable given the influ­ence they have through their control of large swathes of the semiautonomous Chi­nese city’s economy. Chi­nese President Xi Jinping last year summoned a group of them for an emergency meeting as political tensions in Hong Kong mounted.

Less known outside Hong Kong, however, is the po­litical role of fishermen and farmers, remnant industries in Hong Kong that form a large slice of the 1,200- member committee that se­lects the southern Chinese city’s pro-Beijing leader. They also have their own representative in the terri­tory’s legislature.

Fishing and farming make up less than 1 percent of Hong Kong’s $274 bil­lion economy but command 60 votes in the leadership committee, far more than groups or industries with much greater economic or social significance. committee, far more than

Their outsized role is a source of discontent in a city that was rocked by pro-democracy protests over the past year as many Hong Kongers chafed against a rising tide of mainland Chi­nese influence.

"The system is totally unfair," said Drake Leung, one of an estimated 48,000 people who turned out for an annual pro-democracy march on July 1. Leung said fishermen and farm­ers served only as "rubber stamps" for Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leadership.

"Maybe 30 or 40 years ago there were actually more fishermen or farmers in Hong Kong. Now society has changed so much but they still retain this system, this framework to oppress the views of the people," he said.

Pro-democracy activ­ists, who blocked streets for more than two months last year to demand a free election for Hong Kong’s leader, want to modify or eliminate the system.