China approves overhaul of Hong Kong’s political system

Published March 31, 2021
A woman takes pictures in front of high-rise buildings in the Central financial district after sunset in Hong Kong on March 30. - Reuters
A woman takes pictures in front of high-rise buildings in the Central financial district after sunset in Hong Kong on March 30. - Reuters

BEIJING: Chinese leaders endorsed a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system on Tuesday, creating powers to vet anyone standing for public office and slashing the number of directly elected politicians.

The new measures, which bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and were imposed directly by Beijing, are the latest move aimed at quashing the city’s democracy movement after huge protests.

President Xi Jinping signed the new law after it was unanimously approved by China’s top decision-making body.

One of the most dramatic changes is the introduction of a committee that will vet anyone hoping to enter Hong Kong politics for their patriotism.

The body will include background checks by the territory’s new national security apparatus and its decisions cannot be legally challenged.

“The National Security Committee and the National Security Police will provide reports on every single candidate to assist the vetting by the qualification review committee,” Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate on China’s rubber-stamp parliament, said.

When Hong Kongers are allowed to vote in limited local elections, they tend to do so overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, something that has rattled authoritarian Beijing.

Under the new measures, the city’s legislature will be expanded from 70 to 90 seats.

But only 20 of those seats will now be directly elected, down from 35. That brings direct representation down from half to less than a quarter of seats.

The majority — 40 seats — will be chosen by a reliably pro-Beijing committee. The remaining 30 will be picked by “functional constituencies” — bodies representing certain industries and special interest groups that have also been historically loyal to Beijing.

The measures were welcomed by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government, which will no longer have to face a noisy and disruptive pro-democracy opposition in the legislature. “The excessive politicisation in society and the internal rift that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively mitigated,” said chief executive Carrie Lam. The next legislative elections under the new system would be held in December, she said.

“Hong Kong’s institutions of political power and governance must always be firmly in the hands of those who love the motherland and Hong Kong,” added the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which formulates Beijing’s policies for the financial hub.

Opposition figures and some analysts took a less rosy view, describing the new measures as a clear move to ensure any remaining opposition to Beijing’s rule is stamped out.

“This whole new system is really degrading and very oppressive,” Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker said. Lau questioned whether Hong Kongers would want to partake in future elections and warned political unrest could explode again.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021

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