China overhauls Hong Kong’s ballot system

Beijing-appointed politicians will have a greater say in running the city’s politics.

China on Thursday passed sweeping changes for Hong Kong’s electoral system that will give Beijing-appointed politicians a greater say in running the Special Administration Region (SAR), marking the biggest change since the handover in 1997.

The National People’s Congress (NPC), the Communist Party-controlled legislature, approved “to improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system as it ended its week-long session, with President Xi Jinping and 2,894 other delegates supporting the move. One abstained and none opposed the change, which was passed with thunderous applause from the Party-appointed delegates to the NPC in Beijing.

At the heart of the new proposal is a move to give Beijing-appointed politicians greater power in running the HKSAR’s politics, through a newly expanded Election Committee of 1,500 members.

The NPC said the move was to ensure that “the electoral system should conform to the policy of ‘one country, two systems’, meet the realities in the HKSAR and serve to ensure that Hong Kong is administered by people who love the country and love Hong Kong”. The idea to “ensure the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with patriots as the main body” was described by Beijing as a response to the 2019 pro-democracy protests that roiled the city and called for universal suffrage.

Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, said the new move was to plug “clear loopholes and deficiencies, which the anti-China, destabilising elements jumped on to take into their hands the power to administer the HKSAR”.

More legislators

Currently, only half of the 70 members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) are directly elected and the rest are nominated. With this change, the number of LegCo members will be increased to 90, with the additional members also nominated, thereby reducing the share of elected representatives.

The expanded Election Committee will be composed of 1,500 members, up from 1,200 previously, with the new members set to include the Beijing-nominated Hong Kong members of the NPC (the legislature) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (the political advisory body or upper house). The Election Committee, as previously, will be responsible for electing the Chief Executive, and will also choose some of the members of LegCo.

The selection of “patriots” will be ensured by the setting up of a new candidate qualification review committee, which the NPC said “shall be responsible for reviewing and confirming the qualifications of candidates for the Election Committee members, the Chief Executive, and the LegCo members”.

The new electoral system is the second significant change in the administration of the HKSAR since the 2019 protests, with a national security law passed last year that lists penalties for “secession” and “subversion” and, in the view of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy parties, has eroded the political freedoms that distinguished Hong Kong from the mainland under the “one country, two systems” model.

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