China lawmakers propose changes to Hong Kong election rules

"We're looking to create a democratic process with Hong Kong characteristics," said National People's Congress vice-chairman Wang Chen. - AFP

BEIJING, March 5 (The Straits Times/ANN): Chinese lawmakers on Friday (March 5) proposed changes to Hong Kong's electoral commission as well as the way the chief executive and legislators would be elected, emphasising the need for patriotic lawmakers in the territory.

"We're looking to create a democratic process with Hong Kong characteristics," said secretary general of the National People's Congress Wang Chen, who tabled the proposal.

This, he said, is to ensure that "patriots administer Hong Kong", which is important in "perfecting" the "one country, two systems" framework that the city is run by.

Coming barely a year since a sweeping national security law was implemented in the city on June 30, this is yet another blow to hopes for democracy in Hong Kong.

Beijing says the proposed changes are in response to the unrest that has rocked Hong Kong since 2019, when plans to introduce legislation allowing the extradition of criminals to mainland China was met with widespread opposition in the city, which is governed by its own mini constitution, the Basic Law.

This escalated into mass protests that continued for most of the year until Covid-19 prevented mass gatherings and the national security law introduced last year put a dent in the protest movement.

While activists say the demonstrations were a manifestation of long-simmering anger at the local government, Beijing insists that foreign forces were behind it.

Friday's proposal to change Hong Kong's election rules will be discussed in the coming days and voted on next week. If it passes, local authorities in the financial hub will have to implement the changes and are likely to further postpone Legislative Council elections.

Currently only half of the 70 seats in the Legislative Council are directly elected, a proportion which is likely to shrink once the new changes are implemented.

Polls for Hong Kong's lawmaking body were meant to take place on Sept 6 last year but were postponed to Sept 5 this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Local media reported on Friday that the elections would be delayed by another year to September 2022.

In a late-night press briefing on Thursday, the National People's Congress' spokesman Zhang Yesui said Hong Kong's electoral system "needs to keep pace with the times and make improvements". - The Straits Times/ANN
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