HONG KONG - Changes to the laws on the electoral system in the territory are expected to kick in before the end of May, setting the stage for three key polls which critics expect will mean a reduced opposition presence.
Draft Bills on the amendments were tabled in the Legislative Council (Legco) on Wednesday (April 14), where they were read for the first and second time.
Pro-establishment caucus leader Martin Liao told the media after the readings that he hoped the Bills Committee could wrap up the review of the draft laws by mid-May.
The committee was scheduled to meet on Saturday for the first time on the matter and the timeline was tight, he said.
"There will be meetings almost every day," said Mr Liao.
During the second reading, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang recounted how Parliament was paralysed by the opposition for more than a year and the chairman of the chamber could not be elected for seven months.
"Bills, large and small, that benefit the people's livelihood and economy have been delayed indefinitely, making Hong Kong ungovernable," he said.
The overhaul of the electoral system will provide a solid foundation for "patriots" to govern Hong Kong, in turn, bringing stability back to the territory, the minister said.
Ms Starry Lee, chief of the largest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), hoped the Bills Committee would finish its review in time so that preparations could begin for the various elections.
In a briefing on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the election to pick members of the 1,500-strong Election Committee would take place on Sept 19.
This would be followed by the Legco election on Dec 19 and the chief executive race on March 27 next year.
The Legco election was originally postponed for a year to September, with Mrs Lam at the time citing the Covid-19 pandemic as a key consideration.
Currently, the Legco is split between geographical constituencies and functional constituencies, where half of its 70 members are chosen through direct elections.
There will be 90 seats in total with the overhaul, of which 20 will be directly elected and 30 from functional constituencies.
The changes will mean that the powerful Election Committee will not just pick the city's leader but also the remaining 40 seats in Legco.
The 117 seats of the existing Election Committee held by district councillors, most of whom are from the pan-democratic or anti-government camp, will be scrapped, as will the five super district council seats.
There will also be a new Candidate Eligibility Review Committee that has the power to vet whether potential political candidates are "sufficiently patriotic".
Only candidates whose background has been cleared by the police's national security department and the Committee for Safeguarding National Security can take part in any election.
In recent months, a number of opposition members, some of whom are being investigated under the national security law, have skipped town.
Local media on Wednesday reported that a handful more district councillors had fled the city, following in the footsteps of former lawmaker Ted Hui who moved to Australia.
Another former lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who was disqualified in November last year, announced on social media that he had quit the Civic Party. He is reported to be in Canada.
Dozens more district councillors are said to be considering leaving the city, deciding only after reading details of a new oath for them.
In February, the government announced that district councillors would henceforth need to take an oath swearing to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the government.