China’s rubber-stamp parliament has voted for changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system including powers to veto candidates, as Beijing moves to establish a “patriotic” government after huge pro-democracy rallies in the city.
On Thursday, 2,895 members of the National People’s Congress voted to approve the plan, with zero opposition and only one abstention – a move which critics say will be one of the final nails in the coffin of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
The decision aims to place the power of governing the city “firmly in the hands of forces that are patriotic and love Hong Kong,” according to parliamentary spokesman Wang Chen.
Beijing has acted decisively to dismantle Hong Kong’s democratic pillars after massive and sometimes violent protests rocked the financial hub in 2019.
At last year’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party leadership imposed a sweeping national security law on the finance hub.
That has since been used to jail dozens of democracy campaigners and has defanged the protest movement in a city which had enjoyed greater political freedoms than on the mainland under the “one country, two systems” rule.
Although the exact shape of the latest changes is unclear in China’s opaque political system, the vote clears the path towards a “qualification vetting system” for the electoral process in Hong Kong.
A Beijing-controlled election committee in the city would also be tasked with “electing a large proportion of Legislative Council members,” Wang added, referring to the city’s LegCo assembly.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was “delighted” with China’s plan for Hong Kong, adding that the government will step up efforts to “enhance” people’s understanding of national security.
Hong Kong’s ‘Guardian Council’
But Galileo Cheng, a senior officer of the Hong Kong Catholic Institution Staff Association, said that the new system of vetting would be similar to that of Iran’s Guardian Council “to screen out all pan-democratic or non ‘patriots’ to run elections”.
China had committed to giving Hong Kong a degree of autonomy when it reverted from British colonial rule in 1997, a status that has unravelled in recent months – drawing international criticism.
Until recently Hong Kong has maintained a veneer of choice, allowing a small and vocal opposition to flourish at certain local elections.
— Xinqi Su 蘇昕琪 (@XinqiSu) March 11, 2021
Generally, when Hong Kongers are allowed to vote, they vote in droves for pro-democracy candidates.
In recent years, however, authorities have ramped up the disqualification of politicians either sitting in the city’s semi-elected legislature or standing as candidates, based on their political views.
Last month Hong Kong announced its own plans to pass a law vetting all public officials for their political loyalty to Beijing.
Wang had said the “chaos in Hong Kong society shows that there are obvious loopholes and defects in the current electoral system”, giving an opportunity for “anti-China forces in Hong Kong” to seize power.