SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 7 December 2022, Wednesday |

China formalises sweeping electoral shake-up for Hong Kong, demands loyalty

According to the Xinhua news agency, China completed a major reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system on Tuesday, significantly limiting political representation in the city as authorities aim to ensure that “patriots” govern the global financial hub.

Following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a weapon to crush opposition, Beijing is attempting to strengthen its increasingly authoritarian control on its freest region.

The changes would see the number of directly elected representatives fall and the number of Beijing-approved officials rise in an expanded legislature.

As part of the shake-up, a powerful new vetting committee will monitor candidates for public office and work with national security authorities to ensure they are loyal to Beijing.

The Committee for Safeguarding National Security, according to Maria Tam, a senior Hong Kong politician who works with China’s parliament on issues relating to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, will assist the new screening committee in “understanding the history of all of the candidates, precisely if they had complied with the National Security Law.”

The shake-up, according to Chinese authorities, is intended to close “loopholes and deficiencies” that threatened national security during anti-government protests in 2019 and ensure that only “patriots” run the capital.

The measures are the most significant overhaul of Hong Kong’s political structure since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and alter the size and composition of the legislature and electoral committee in favour of pro-Beijing figures.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and several city officials, including the Secretary for Justice, all issued separate statements praising China’s move.

“I firmly believe that by improving the electoral system and implementing “patriots administering Hong Kong”, the excessive politicisation in society and the internal rift that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively mitigated,” Lam said.

UNOPPOSED

The number of directly elected representatives will drop to 20 from 35 and the size of the legislature increase to 90 seats from 70 currently, Xinhua said, while an election committee responsible for selecting the chief executive will increase from 1,200 members to 1,500.

The representation of 117 community-level district councilors in the election committee would also be scrapped and the six district council seats in the Legislative Council will also go, according to Xinhua.

District councils are the city’s only fully democratic institution, and almost 90% of the 452 district seats are controlled by the democratic camp after a 2019 vote. They mostly deal with grassroots issues such as public transport links and garbage collection.

The electoral restructuring was endorsed unopposed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, at the apex of China’s legislature, Xinhua reported.

Beijing had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also guarantees the city wide-ranging autonomy not seen in mainland China, including freedom of speech.

Critics say the changes move Hong Kong in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has ever had since the handover, if any at all.

Since the security law was imposed, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it, or arrested for other reasons.

Some elected legislators have been disqualified, with authorities calling their oaths insincere, while scores of democracy activists have been driven into exile.

According to Xinhua, all legislature members, including direct elected seats, would require endorsements from each of the five subsectors of the election committee, making inclusion in the election more difficult for pro-democracy candidates.

“They want to increase the safety factor so that in the future, the democrats will not only get very small seats, but they will not even be allowed to run in the election if they are not liked by Beijing,” said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer in the department of government and public administration at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He expects the democratic candidates to get at most one-sixth, or around 16 seats, in Legco after the reforms.

    Source:
  • Reuters