HONG KONG – 1,500 Hong Kong “patriots” will sit on a reshuffled election commission on Friday to appoint the city’s head and select around half of its lawmakers – a move seen as the last step in strengthening government control Chinese and stifle all opposition.
New faces from Beijing-friendly organizations, many of which are unknown, and representatives from national organizations will join the election committee after a dramatic overhaul in March. The changes have drawn international condemnation, with Western governments saying they are undermining democratic elements of Hong Kong’s electoral system amid a relentless crackdown that has put dozens of lawmakers and pro-democracy activists in jail or left them behind. driven into exile as civic organizations dissolve.
The electoral committee is tasked with selecting the city’s chief executive next year and, under the new system, will have the power to nominate candidates to the 90-member Legislative Council and directly elect 40 members in December, reducing thus the role of voters.
“It’s definitely a reverse trend,” said former lawmaker Nathan Law, now in exile. “It is evident that the path taken by the Hong Kong political system is retreating, towards a much more authoritarian leadership. There is certainly much less respect for the people.”
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly said electoral changes – and the National Security Law imposed last year – restored stability and put the city “back on track.” Pro-Beijing politicians say the reshaping allows central government views and opinions to be better heard.
“If your heart is constantly against [the central government], then you are unable to finish a lot of things, everything drags on, and that’s the problem we have to solve, ”Hong Kong’s senior delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Tam Yiu-chung told Nikkei Asia. . “The overhaul of the elections is capable of solving this problem.”
He added: “The people who were elected to the electoral committee are patriots and want to do good governance. We need people who understand the country.
Structural changes to the Election Commission include removing representatives from district councils which included many opposition members and adding a new sub-sector for Hong Kong representatives from Chinese political bodies. A new position at the helm is reserved for those already in a national leadership role. Critics say all of this takes Hong Kong away from late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s promise of “the people of Hong Kong ruling in Hong Kong” and the phrase “one country, two systems.”
Previously, the original 1,200 seats on the Election Commission were dominated by voters willing to respond to Beijing’s tenders in four sectors that included industrial, financial and religious groups, prominent tycoons and members of the Legislative Council and local district councils. But in 2019, at the height of the city’s anti-government protests, the pro-democracy bloc won a landslide in the district council elections, securing 117 committee seats and possibly overturning the balance of power.
Analysts say Beijing felt compelled to ensure that only its top pick could be elected as chief executive, only about nine months after the draconian national security law was imposed, punishing it. which is broadly defined as subversion, secession, terrorism, and alien collusion to life. imprisonment.
On March 11 this year, China’s highest governing body, the National People’s Congress, adopted a decision to close “loopholes and loopholes” in Hong Kong’s electoral system that have enabled “anti-China and anti-communists ”to enter the system of government. The measure was adopted with 2,895 votes in favor and one abstention.
By the end of the month, Hong Kong had passed constitutional changes that would require candidates in all elections to be patriots and support national interests.
“The candidates are there to accept the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party as the ruler of China and Hong Kong. You must abide by the rules, the constitution and the basic law,” said Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the constitution of the city. chairman of the China Association for Hong Kong and Macao Studies, a think tank.
With the addition of 300 seats, the changes also reduced the once-heavy influence of Hong Kong tycoons, who effectively controlled nearly a quarter of the seats. This year, well-known names like Li Ka-shing, Henry Cheng Kar-shun, and Lee Shau-kee are missing.
In addition, a brand new, powerful audit committee has been formed to review and approve the eligibility of candidates wishing to run for the Election Committee, CEO, or Legislative Council, making it even easier to ban anyone who criticizes Beijing.
The seven-member vetting group, led by the city’s chief secretary, John Lee, will determine whether a candidate is a steadfast “patriot” and examine his conduct and behavior before allowing him to run, Lee said. to Chinese state media Global Times. Fifty-five of the more than 200 district councilors were disqualified after being challenged for their political positions and invalidated oaths.
At this point, many see little point in anyone from the opposition trying to engage in Hong Kong politics.
“It seems that the Chinese Communist leadership under Xi Jinping does not tolerate any significant force that could threaten or become a formidable political force,” observed retired politics professor Joseph Cheng.
About two months away from the Legislative Council election, the city’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, said no member would run under the “patriots only” model once the nomination period opens on the 30th. October.
Some say that the absence of any opposition means that there are no checks and balances. But Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Democratic Party, said the group would continue to play its opposition role even outside of LegCo.
“We have always tried to hold the government to account, I think that has always been our position,” Lo said. “It really depends on whether the government wants to listen to the opposition.”
Meanwhile, as the new system has weakened the role of the public in choosing its leaders, the government has also criminalized urging people not to vote or to vote blank or void in protest.