Beijing passed a new law that will drastically restrict the right of Hong Kongers to stand for election and reshape the city’s parliament, further entrenching China’s power over the supposedly semi-autonomous territory.
The standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, on Tuesday endorsed proposed changes to how Hong Kong lawmakers and the city’s leader are chosen.
Prior to these changes, Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature was more or less split between directly elected seats and so-called functional constituencies, seats chosen by trade and industry bodies that usually favour allies of Beijing. In theory, opposition parties could win a majority in the body, by taking almost every elected seat and a handful of functional constituencies, enabling them to have a major say in how the city is governed.
From Tuesday, that will no longer be possible. Under the new system, the legislature will expand to 90 seats, with 40 of those to be chosen by a newly empowered, mostly government-appointed Election Committee.
The functional constituencies will control 30 seats, while just 20 will be directly elected by the public, the lowest number since Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.
Those hoping to stand for those seats must secure nominations from each of the five sectors of the Election Committee, something which may be impossible for opposition members.
China have described the law changes as necessary to ensure the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” in the wake of months-long and often violent anti-government protests in 2019 and the introduction last year of a new, wide-reaching national security law, banning secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Speaking earlier this month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said “there is no so-called international standard of democracy. Every democracy has to look into the proper context of that particular country, or that particular place.”
“We are improving the electoral system by making sure that whoever is governing and administering Hong Kong in future is somebody who loves the country, who loves Hong Kong,” she added.
The United States meanwhile, has described the move by Beijing as an “assault on democracy in Hong Kong.”