China’s parliament is poised this week to pass a draconian new electoral law in Hong Kong that will greatly reduce the number of democratically elected lawmakers and consolidate President Xi Jinping’s hold on the territory.
The move will effectively end decades of democratic development in Hong Kong and comes less than a year after the National People’s Congress imposed a national security law on the city, accusing dozens of pro-democracy activists of subversion and other crimes. against the city. is punishable by long prison terms. The NPC began its annual session in Beijing on Friday and will formally unveil the new electoral law when it closes on Thursday.
Half of the 70-seat Legislative Council in Hong Kong is directly elected by geographic constituencies. The rest are chosen by industrial sectors whose representatives overwhelmingly support Beijing. The formula has helped pro-democracy candidates, who routinely capture 60 percent of the popular vote, generally hold no more than 40 percent of the room.
But Chinese officials believe that further safeguards are needed to ensure that only people Beijing considers “patriots” to lead Hong Kong’s government, legislature and judiciary after pro-democracy protests and riots hit the territory in 2019. have turned upside down. “The protests went too far,” said a member of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing establishment. “Hong Kong lost China’s trust.”
According to people briefed on the NPC’s deliberations, the new electoral law will expand the legislature to 90 seats, with only 20 percent elected through direct elections.
On Sunday, the Chinese Foreign Minister returned to international criticism of the new law. “Loyalty to the Motherland is a fundamental political ethic of all office holders and aspirants around the world – Hong Kong is no exception,” Wang Yi said at an NPC briefing. “How can we expect someone who doesn’t love the motherland to really love Hong Kong?”
Wang Chen, a vice chairman of the NPC, has also confirmed that anyone hoping to run for a legislative seat should be nominated by the predominantly pro-Beijing “election committee” that elects the Hong Kong CEO. The committee, Wang added, would also elect “a relatively large proportion” of the representatives in the expanded legislature.
“This will give Beijing even more control,” said Simon Cartledge, author of a book on the territory’s political system. “But I cannot see what it is doing to address the governance issue that is at the heart of Hong Kong’s problems – that a non-accountable government is struggling to come up with answers to meet Hong Kong’s needs.”
Under the “one country, two systems” formula, designed to ensure Hong Kong’s autonomy in all matters except defense and foreign affairs, the Chinese government is committed to making “gradual and orderly progress” towards direct elections for all legislative seats and for the general manager.
Leung Chun-ying, CEO of Hong Kong from 2012 to 2017, told local media over the weekend that Beijing had decided that “enough is enough” but would still be willing to “eventually” move to universal suffrage under the new law. “The overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system can reassure the heads of the central government and all of our countrymen,” said Leung.
Hong Kong companies, including Swire, the conglomerate that controls Cathay Pacific Airways, are rushing to support the new electoral law. “The principle of ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’ is beneficial to the city’s future as a world-leading business and financial center,” Swire said in a statement.
Willy Lam, a Chinese political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Beijing’s longstanding crackdown on the territory “reflects Xi’s hardline in regions where the Chinese Communist Party still lacks total domination.”
Speaking to NPC delegates from Inner Mongolia, Xi said Beijing guidelines to prioritize Mandarin Chinese over Mongolian language teaching should be followed. The directive sparked widespread protests from the region’s ethnic Mongolians last year.