‘Shock and awe’ for Hong Kong as China targets elections

Changes to the way Hong Kong chooses its leaders look likely to leave the territory’s residents will even less say over how they’re governed.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam chats with a military delegate ahead of the NPC's opening session. The parliament is discussing more changes to the territory's elections [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Hong Kong, China – The annual gathering of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s parliament, is traditionally the forum where the leadership ticks off the party’s accomplishments in the past year and sets economic targets for the next 12 months.

But also on the agenda this year is the political future of Hong Kong.

The agenda includes an item euphemistically entitled “improving the electoral system of Hong Kong”.

In reality that’s likely to be a radical overhaul of that system.

There was shock and awe for Hong Kong at the last NPC, when the new national security law for the territory was unveiled. Now we are about to get more of the same.

China’s top official in Hong Kong, Xia Baolong, gave clear signals about what’s to come last week when he addressed a conference outlining the criteria “ for patriots ruling Hong Kong”.

Xia said the power to govern the semi-autonomous region must lie in hands of “patriots”, as it was the “fundamental principle” of fulfilling “one country, two systems”. He said people in almost all countries and regions demonstrate patriotism when running for public office, except it seemed in Hong Kong.

This means people who criticise China or the Communist Party or who refuse to declare their love for the motherland, will not have a future in Hong Kong politics or indeed its judiciary, for that matter.

Attention now is focused on district councils, the lowest rung of government in Hong Kong.

They mostly deal with mundane issues like parking and rubbish collection. It’s hard to think of another place in the world where such lowly bodies now command so much international attention.

The reason: 17 out of the 18 councils are controlled by the pro-democracy camp. If some district councillors are to be deemed unpatriotic, then what about the electors who voted overwhelmingly for them in the 2019 elections? How will they be defined?

In many ways, these councils represent the remnants of the territory’s political opposition, which is no longer represented in parliament.

The speculation is that an election committee will be established to screen candidates for all future elections.

It’s also forecast that district councillors will no longer have seats on the committee that “elects” the chief executive.

If the speculation is to believed, he or she will likely be chosen by consultation rather than election.

The changes come as dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists were charged with ‘subversion’ under the national security law and mostly denied bail [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Critics, the few still prepared to speak out,  say that what this means is that an already diluted form of democracy is over and Hong Kong will be left with no political opposition.

This raises serious questions over the credibility of the next election, which has reportedly again been postponed and pushed back until 2022.

So depending on your viewpoint, this represents a dramatic dismantling, or rebuilding, of Hong Kong’s electoral framework.

And it is happening against a backdrop of the continuing trials involving almost the entire leadership of the pro-democracy camp.

China insists none of this contradicts the promises it made to Britain and the international community before the handover in 1997.

Adrian Brown is Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Hong Kong.

Source: Al Jazeera