China has decided to overhaul Hong Kong’s polling system and elections to Hong Kong’s legislature are likely to be deferred till September 2022 as Beijing moves to further tighten its control over the former British colony.
The changes will be cleared at the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, that started on Friday and will continue for a week.
According to Chinese lawmaker Wang Chen, Beijing will change the size, composition, and formation method of an electoral committee that chooses Hong Kong’s leader.
Some of the changes that could be brought, according to local media, is that the overall size of the electoral committee would be increased from 1,200 to 1,500, and the city’s legislature from 70 to 90 seats.
At present, half of the 70 seats in the legislative council are directly elected which would then shrink once the extra seats that are being added will be picked by the electoral committee. The other half includes industries, unions, and professions that are largely pro-Beijing.
The council scrutinises bills, passes laws, approves spending and has the power to endorse the appointment and removal of judges.
In fact, the representation of community-level district council officials in both the election committee and the legislative council may be scrapped as well.
The district councils are Hong Kong’s only fully democratic institution with right now about 90 percent of the 452 district seats being controlled by the democratic camp - the humiliating loss in 2019 had irked Beijing even though the district councils mostly deal with issues such as bus stops and garbage.
The move, which could be a serious blow to pro-democracy hopes, will ensure that all public institutions in Hong Kong are controlled by those patriotic to Beijing.
Hong Kong has been witnessing widespread pro-democracy protests since June 2019 - but the period has also seen severe crackdown on all the pro-democracy leaders and activists resulting them in going to prison or in exile.
Many of the pro-democracy legislators had resigned from their post last year as well. Beijing had also introduced a strict security law which allows China to take action against any seems to be undermining its authority.
China’s action had come under severe criticism from countries like the US and the UK but has failed to it. The new move, once implemented, would reportedly finish any possibility of the opposition affecting the outcome of elections in Hong Kong.
The former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under the promise of the latter maintaining a high degree of autonomy but with the reported changes the autonomy may become a thing of the past.
In fact, Chinese premier Li Keqiang noted that Beijing will “resolutely guard against and deter” any interference by external forces in Hong Kong’s affairs.
During the opening session of the NPC, Li Keqiang said China will ensure the implementation of law and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security in Hong Kong.
China’s parliament spokesman, Zhang Yesui, said the electoral reforms were necessary to “move with the times” while emphasising that parliament has the power and responsibility to make the decision to “improve” the political system.
Miriam M Lexmann, who is member of the European Parliament, said “the Chinese Communist Party no longer even pretends that it is breaking international agreements and crushing #HongKong’s freedoms.”
“The question is, is the EU going to continue pretending that it is doing something about it, or are we finally going to #StandWithHongKong?,” she tweeted.
Additional reporting by agencies