The National People’s Congress in Beijing laid out plans to pass changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system in the coming days, following through on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call to ensure "patriots” run the global financial center. That edict appeared to rule out many pro-democracy candidates who have won elected office since the city’s return from British rule in 1997.
"For years, anti-China forces seeking to disrupt Hong Kong have been colluding with external forces in an attempt to seize the jurisdiction over Hong Kong, with clear goals and concrete actions,” the official Xinhua New Agency said in a commentary Friday. "Effective measures must be taken to block these pawns of anti-China forces from being elected to HKSAR’s governance architecture, and knock them out once and for all.”
The action is Xi’s latest step to curb dissent in the former British colony following historically large and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in 2019. The NPC imposed a powerful national security law on the city last year and used it to arrest some 100 opposition figures, former lawmakers and activists, drawing criticism from business groups and sanctions from the US government.
Hong Kong authorities charged some 47 opposition figures with "conspiracy to commit subversion” Sunday over their roles in the "35+1” primary campaign in July, in which they aimed to win an unprecedented majority on the city’s 70-seat Legislative Council. The government argues that the campaign -- aimed at forcing Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign by voting down her budget -- amounted to a subversive plot to paralyze the city.
A local magistrate judge denied bail to 32 of the defendants late Thursday, meaning they could likely remain locked up until trial. The court granted bail to the remaining 15, only to send them back to jail after prosecutors objected.
"Beijing is so fearful of Hong Kong people that it is not enough to arrest and deny bail to those who participated in the 35+1 campaign, and to require district councilors to pledge allegiance to the CCP,” said Victoria Hui, an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in Hong Kong politics. "It wants to make sure that it can control all future elections.”
A top Chinese lawmaker said Friday that the size, composition and formation of the Election Committee, which now selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, would be "adjusted and improved.” The revamped body will have a say in the nomination of all Legislative Council candidates and pick "a relatively large share” of them, said Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee.
"The standard for a ‘patriot’ is to respect one’s own nation, sincerely support the motherland to resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and not harm the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” Wang said. Xia Baolong, the head of the Chinese agency that oversees the city, went further in a speech last month, saying that it would be contradictory to claim support for Hong Kong’s governance framework while opposing the party that created it.
The South China Morning Post reported earlier that the Legislative Council would see the number of seats rise to 90 from 70 now, with the additional members chosen by an expanded Election Committee. That body would be reconfigured to eliminate members of District Councils, which the pro-democracy camp won heavily in 2019.
The report said the Legislative Council election, now scheduled for September following a yearlong delay due to the coronavirus, could be pushed back again to September 2022 to facilitate the changes to the voting system.
The changes would also eliminate five citywide "superseats” on the Legislative Council, which were the only ones that could be voted on by all 7.5 million people, local broadcaster Now TV reported. Moreover, China would raise the nominations needed to stand for chief executive and include a committee to screen candidates standing for all levels of government, from District Councils to the Legislative Council to the Election Committee.
While the committee that elected Lam in 2017 has long been dominated by Beijing loyalists, opposition candidates made inroads with their landslide win in District Council elections just over a year ago. A chance to build on that success evaporated after the government delayed the Legislative Council election and the entire opposition was either disqualified or resigned en masse.
The Beijing-backed administration in Hong Kong welcomed the development, saying in a statement Friday that it "respects that the central government is taking the lead and will render its full cooperation.”
On Friday, Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work report didn’t directly reference the election changes, saying that Beijing’s policies toward the "special administrative regions” of Hong Kong and Macau would "ensure the implementation of the laws and enforcement mechanisms for the two regions to safeguard national security.” - Bloomberg