The changes would see the number of directly elected representatives fall to 20 from 35 and the size of the legislature increase to 90 seats from 70 currently
China’s legislature on Tuesday formally approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system that will see a sharply reduced share of directly elected representatives and a tightening of Beijing’s control in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).
The changes, first announced earlier this month at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, were on Tuesday passed by the 167 members of the NPC Standing Committee. President Xi Jinping signed orders to promulgate the amended annexes to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the constitution that has governed the SAR under the “one country, two systems” model since its return to China in 1997, official media reported.
The amendments mark the biggest changes to Hong Kong’s political system since the handover, and reduce the share of directly elected representatives in its Legislative Council (LegCo). While previously 35 of its 70 members were directly elected, that number has been reduced by 15.
Now, Hongkongers will only be able to directly vote for 20 representatives while the size of LegCo has been expanded to 90, thereby drastically reducing the share of elected representatives. The 70 others will be broadly chosen from pro-establishment bodies. A 1,200-member Election Committee that chooses Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has been expanded by 300 members, and will include Hong Kong’s representative to the Communist Party-controlled legislature. It will also choose 40 members of LegCo, while the remaining 30 will be chosen by what are called functional constituencies, representing a range of industry, trade and other interest groups.
The other big change is the setting up of a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee “for reviewing and confirming the eligibility of candidates” and a “Committee for Safeguarding National Security” that “will make findings as to whether a candidate for Election Committee member or for the office of Chief Executive meets the legal requirements”. There will be no scope for legally challenging the findings.
District councillors, who are directly elected, will no longer have a place either in the Election Committee or in LegCo. In 2019, the pro-democracy opposition swept district elections in Hong Kong, following which they controlled 90% of the seats. Now, the district councillors will only be involved with local-level civic issues without representation in government.
Pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong have seen the political changes, as well as last year’s national security law that punishes “subversion”, as the most significant changes in the “one country, two systems” model and as dramatically eroding the autonomy enjoyed by the SAR previously. The changes have also all but ended any prospect of realising the demands of the 2019 protest movement for universal suffrage and direct elections to choose the Chief Executive.
The 2019 protests were seen by Beijing as a direct challenge to its authority. Zhang Yong, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told the official Xinhua news agency the changes, including for a candidate review committee, were “to ensure ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’ and prevent anti-China, destabilising elements from entering the body of power of the HKSAR.” “It fixes the loopholes in the electoral system and ensures patriots administer Hong Kong,” he said. “Whoever elected to administer must be patriots. This is a fundamental premise of any political system and electoral system in any country and region.”