Lam Yik / Bloomberg via Getty Images
BEIJING, China – China’s legislature is discussing draft guidelines that will drastically revise Hong Kong’s electoral system to give Beijing almost total control over the region’s election results.
While Beijing has not released the details of the proposals, it has outlined broad changes that will effectively allow Beijing to veterinarian candidates for the Hong Kong Legislative Council and package an election committee to elect the region’s chief executive.
Main among the proposed guidelines would be an increase in the size of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and its Nomination Committee. This committee would also cultivate all candidates fighting for Legislative Council positions, guaranteeing Beijing a majority in each body.
“The administrative power in Hong Kong must be maintained in the hands of patriots,” Xia Baolong, China’s top official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, said in a speech last week.
“You can not say you are patriotic, but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, or you do not respect it,” added Eric Tsang, a senior Hong Kong official, the next day.
Beijing-appointed officials have been preparing to roll out these election changes for several weeks during China’s annual political meetings.
“This need to change the electoral system and arrangements in Hong Kong … is to ensure that whoever rules Hong Kong is patriotic,” Hong Kong’s current chief executive told reporters last month. “
But a public announcement of the proposals came only late Thursday night by a senior Communist Party official, Zhang Yesui. Hong Kong’s electoral system suddenly looked up the agenda of China’s rubber stamp National People’s Congress hours before it was convened for a week of annual political meetings. China’s parliament is expected to adopt the guidelines by March 11, when the meetings end. An elite body of legislators will create more detailed implementation rules afterwards.
Two of Hong Kong’s former executives urged the region’s residents to embrace Beijing’s rule. Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first chief executive, issued a statement Friday arguing that Hong Kong has reached a point where “it needs to be reformed.” Tung is currently vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Advisory Conference, a political body that will also meet this week.
Leung Chun-ying, who was CEO until 2017, said in a two-part video speech that many of the region’s political opposition were “separatists” who were against Beijing’s rule: “In Hong Kong, the extra autonomous power we enjoy actually comes from Beijing. “Leung is currently a delegate in China’s legislature.
Hong Kong has never been an electoral democracy, but under the region’s constitution – a mini-constitution adopted after the region’s transfer to Chinese government in 1997 – residents can vote for local district councilors and directly elect half of the region’s 70 legislators.
Even before Beijing’s proposed electoral changes, mainland China exerted significant influence over Hong Kong’s government bodies.
The composition of Hong Kong’s 1,200-strong nomination committee, which elects the region’s chief executive, is already filled with officials favoring Beijing and the Beijing-appointed delegates to two mainland political bodies. In 2014, Beijing announced that it would cultivate future candidates for CEO, leading to major peaceful protests.
“Some of the chaos in Hong Kong shows that there are obvious loopholes and shortcomings in the current electoral system and mechanisms that provided opportunities for anti-China and anti-Hong Kong forces to take over the leadership in Hong Kong,” said Wang Chen, vice president of China’s legislative elite committee, said in a speech Friday.
Wang likely refers to a November 2019 local election in which pro-democracy forces won 17 out of 18 of the region’s district councils during a record turnout. The landslide election gave pro-democracy politicians hope that they could work together to win enough seats on the Legislative Council, some of whose members are helping to decide Hong Kong’s next chief executive.
Last July, pro-democracy activists organized an informal primary vote to elect lawmakers with the most public support – an action by Hong Kong officials called potentially subversive. Fifty poll organizers were eventually arrested under a national security law. Hong Kong delayed legislative elections by a year citing the coronavirus pandemic.
This week, forty-seven of those arrested were formally charged with undermining for organizing the informal primary election last July. All but fifteen were denied bail before their trial in May.
“Beijing is no longer willing to tolerate an election that it cannot rig,” said Alvin Cheung, a legal researcher at New York University’s US-Asia Law Institute.
Amy Cheng contributed research in Beijing.