The radical changes are the most significant since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China has approved a radical and controversial overhaul of Hong Kong’s political system that will reduce the number of directly elected seats in the territory’s mini-parliament and create a selection committee to approve candidates for election.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the supreme decision-making body of the mainland’s parliament, approved the changes 167 to 0, Hong Kong media reported on Tuesday, citing comments by Tam Yiu-chung, the sole representative of the territory.
The 167 committee members gave each other a “big round of applause” after their vote, Tam said.
China announced the proposals at the AFN meeting in March, arguing that the changes were necessary to “improve” the electoral system and ensure that only “patriots” were able to rule Hong Kong.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the overhaul would help allay divisions in the territory.
“I firmly believe that by improving the electoral system and establishing ‘Patriots Administering Hong Kong’, the excessive politicization of society and the internal divide that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively alleviated, thereby improving governance capacity. of the Hong Kong SAR, ”Lam said. said in a statement, referring to the territory by its official name.
“Hong Kong SAR will then be able to leverage our unique advantages and the unwavering support of central authorities to develop the economy and improve the living conditions of our citizens. “
Under the plan, the Legislative Council (LegCo) will be expanded to 90 members, but the number of directly elected seats will drop to 20. Some 30 seats will be reserved for “functional constituencies” representing various industries, with the Election Committee choosing. currently the head of Hong Kong by appointing 40 representatives, the media said.
Under the changes, District Councilors will no longer be part of this committee.
Previously, half of the members of the 70-seat LegCo were directly elected by the public.
A new committee will also be set up to review all candidates for election. It will have fewer than 10 members and will be chosen by two groups overseeing national security – the Committee for the Safeguarding of National Security under the leadership of the Hong Kong Director General and the Beijing National Security Bureau in Hong Kong, added the South China Morning Post.
Elections to the Territory’s Legislative Council were due to take place last September but the government delayed the ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When China regained control of Hong Kong from the UK in 1997, it pledged to uphold the territory’s way of life and civil liberties – unheard of on the mainland – for at least 50 years as part of the ” one country, two systems “. . The “ultimate goal” of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of the territory, was the election of all members of the Legco by universal suffrage.
Lam said “one country, two systems” was a “very important principle” and that the latest changes would ensure that Hong Kong’s electoral system conforms to it. Her administration would embark on a public education campaign to explain the changes to Hong Kong residents, she added.
In 2019, mass opposition to a law that would have brought suspects to justice in mainland China turned into months-long protests for democracy that at times turned violent.
In November of that year, in the district council elections that were a major test of the political mood in the territory, pro-democracy candidates from Hong Kong swept the table.
Since then, pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified from Legco for “endangering security” and a group, including academics and politicians, faces charges under the National Security Act for organizing primaries to choose the best pro-democracy candidates for the Legco elections which were then postponed.
China imposed the national security law on the territory on the night of June 30 last year.
The broad law punishes crimes, including secession, sedition, and collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life in prison.
Beijing said the law was necessary to fight separatism and foreign interference, but critics feared it would ban dissent and destroy Hong Kong’s autonomy.