HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Elections for Hong Kong's legislature will likely be deferred to September 2022 amid plans for a major overhaul to the city's electoral system, the South China Morning Post reported on Friday (March 5), citing unnamed sources.
The delay, if confirmed, would be in line with a new effort by Beijing to ensure "patriots" are in charge of the global financial hub, potentially the biggest blow to the city’s democratic hopes since its handover from British rule in 1997.
Mr Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the National People's Congress, said it had the constitutional power to "improve" Hong Kong's system and a draft decision would be discussed during the annual parliamentary session which opens on Friday.
Most of the main pro-democracy politicians and activists are either in jail or in exile after authorities cracked down on the mass anti-government protests of 2019, culminating with the imposition of a national security law last year.
Still, Beijing is keen to eliminate any possibility of the opposition affecting the outcome of elections in Hong Kong, whose return to Chinese rule came with a promise of a high degree of autonomy.
Hong Kong's Cable TV and Now TV, citing unnamed sources, said after Mr Zhang spoke the changes would include increasing the size of an election committee to select Hong Kong's leader from 1,200 to 1,500, and the city's legislature from 70 to 90 seats.
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.
The moves will reduce democratic representation in both the Legislative Council and the election committee, which must convene before Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s five-year term ends in July next year.
A broader use of patriotic oaths is also expected to enforce loyalty – action which has already been used to disqualify some democratic politicians from the legislature.
While critics say the new security law has been used to crush dissent and curb freedoms, Beijing and Hong Kong officials say it was vital to end the 2019 violence and fend off manipulating "foreign forces."
A Hong Kong government spokesman backed the prospect of electoral changes, saying that only through "patriots governing Hong Kong" could the Central Government’s overall jurisdiction be implemented, securing the stability of the city.