BEIJING - Chinese lawmakers on Thursday (March 11) voted nearly unanimously to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, in yet another move that demonstrates Beijing’s tightening control over the city.
Deputies at the National People’s Congress (NPC), or China’s Parliament, passed the proposal with 2,895 votes for, none against and one abstaining. The delegates broke into nearly a minute of applause at the Great Hall of the People when the vote tally was announced.
A new Candidate Qualification Review Committee will be set up to vet the eligibility of all those looking to run for office. Both Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) and the Election Committee – a body responsible for picking the city’s leader – will be expanded.
Three hundred members, expected to come from members of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – China’s top political advisory body – will be added to the Election Committee, taking the total to 1,500, while the LegCo will add 20 more seats to the current 70.
The candidate review committee is expected to weed out potential candidates deemed “not patriotic enough”, likely to be pro-democracy politicians. This is to ensure “those who love the country and Hong Kong rule Hong Kong”, the document stated.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam welcomed the reform passed by Beijing, saying that there have been people with a “hidden agenda” who have made use of loopholes in the electoral system to enter the political structure.
Describing the move as “timely”, Mrs Lam said opposition forces have been promoting anti-mainland sentiments and urging the West to impose sanctions on the former British colony.
“I just don’t see how by improving the electoral system in Hong Kong or even by expanding the number of Legislative Council (Legco) members from 70 to 90, that the Hong Kong government will not be monitored, will not be put under this check and balance. It will continue,” she said.
She noted that a patriot need not “love the Chinese Communist Party”, but that one has to respect and accept that a socialist system is in play.
Mrs Lam added that she and the central government are mentally prepared for attacks on the move by foreign governments that will interfere “brutally” in the city’s affairs.
During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s press conference wrapping up the parliamentary session on Thursday, he said the changes proposed were to “fully and accurately” implement the “one country, two systems” principle by which Hong Kong is governed, saying that the decision is “very clear cut”.
Under the framework, which is supposed to remain unchanged until 2047, the territory enjoys a high degree of autonomy, a separate legislature and legal system, as well as liberties unseen on the mainland such as freedom of speech and the right to protest.
But critics say those freedoms have been eroded in recent years as Beijing tightens its grip over the territory.
The proposal was met with concern by other governments including Britain and Japan.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday that the proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would further undermine international trust in China, while Japan said its “grave concern” was intensifying, calling on Beijing to allow fair and open elections in the territory.
The proposed electoral changes will be sent to the Basic Law Committee of the NPC, where the specific legislation will be drafted.
When tabling the draft to the NPC last week, NPC vice-chairman Zhang Chen said the aim was to create “democracy with Hong Kong characteristics”.