'Pressing need' to roll out electoral reform, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam echoes Beijing

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam greets a Chinese delegate before the opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 5, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam has rallied behind Beijing, going further than the mainland to declare that there is a "pressing need" to plug legal loopholes to improve Hong Kong's electoral system ahead of two key polls.

In a statement issued shortly after Beijing proposed changes to Hong Kong's electoral commission as well as how the city's leader and lawmakers are to be elected, Mrs Lam said having "patriots" governing the territory was a concept that could be traced to former paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

She said he had clearly stated in 1984 that the idea of "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" had its scope and criteria with "patriots" forming the mainstay.

This principle, said Mrs Lam, was fundamental to national sovereignty, security, development interests, as well as the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

"As there will be a number of elections in the coming 12 months, there is a pressing need for us to complete the necessary legislative work," she added.

At the opening of the fourth annual session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) on Friday (March 5) in Beijing, NPC Standing Committee vice-chairman Wang Chen said the election committee tasked with picking Hong Kong's leader would be given new powers to participate in the nomination of all Legislative Council (Legco) candidates, and to elect "a relatively large share" of lawmakers.

Separately, Hong Kong's sole deputy to the NPC Standing Committee Tam Yiu Chung defended Beijing's proposed electoral reform, saying it was in line with both the city's mini-Constitution known as the Basic Law, as well as the Chinese Constitution.

He was quoted by local media as saying that Hong Kong's political structure and election system fell under the authority of the central government.

The pro-establishment heavyweight said he hoped the changes would take effect in time for the Legco election, which is now slated for Sept 5 after it was delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But local media reports, citing sources, said the poll would again be postponed for another year to September 2022.

Mr Tam said: "Even if the legal amendments cannot be completed by the date in September, I think it doesn't matter if it is postponed for a short period. But this is just my speculation. We will all do our best to hope to complete the legal amendment work."

Legco president Andrew Leung also backed the suggestions, saying they could restore normalcy to Hong Kong by establishing a "peaceful and rational Legco" and minimising any unnecessary disputes.

But Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung Tai, who is one of two lawmakers outside of the pro-establishment camp who still has his seat, told local media he believed the pro-democracy camp would be wiped out from Legco in future.

The proposed changes, to be voted on next week, include allowing the election committee that chooses Hong Kong's chief executive to elect "a relatively large share" of lawmakers and nominate all Legco hopefuls.

Other media reports said the number of Legco seats will be bumped up to 90 from 70, while the number of election committee members will be raised from 1,200 to 1,500.

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