China slashed the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature in a further setback for the semi-autonomous territory’s already battered pro-democracy movement.
The changes were announced Tuesday following a two-day meeting of China’s top legislative body.
Under the changes, the chamber will be expanded to 90 representatives of which only 20 will be elected by the people. Currently, half of the 70 seats are directly elected.
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The move is part of a two-phase effort to curb political protests and opposition in Hong Kong, which is part of China but has a more liberal political system because of its status as a former British colony. Beijing imposed a national security law on the city last year and this year is revamping its election process.
The restrictions follow months of pro-democracy protests in 2019, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets and turned violent in the face of the government’s refusal to give in to protesters’ demands.
“Today is a very sad day for Hong Kong. The electoral system is completely dismantled,” said Emily Lau, a former legislator and member of the Democratic Party.
They are going to get rid of opposition voices because under this new system, which is so oppressive and restrictive, I don’t think any self-respecting individual will want to participate,” she added.
China’s legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, amended Hong Kong’s constitution to pave the way for the changes. The next step is for the territory’s government to revise its election laws and hold polls based on them.
In the current parliament, voters elect 35 of its 70 members, and the other half are appointed by constituencies, which represent professions and interest groups. Many are pro-Beijing, guaranteeing it a majority in the chamber.
The new body will have 20 elected members, 30 elected by the constituencies and another 40 by an Election Committee, which will continue to take on the task of appointing the city’s executive leader.
This committee, which will be expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 members, is dominated by supporters of the central government.
Candidates will have to pass vetting by the national police and the committee overseeing national security in the city.
In addition, another body will be set up to review the qualifications of candidates for public office in Hong Kong and ensure that the city is governed by patriots, according to the language of the central government.
In mid-month, China’s full National People’s Congress approved a proposal authorizing the Standing Committee to amend the Basic Law, the constitution that has governed Hong Kong since the former British colony returned to Chinese hands in 1997 under the one country, two systems” model that promised it some autonomy for 50 years.
The territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, told a news conference Tuesday that the new committee to vet candidates will be made up of a few government officials who have the confidence of the central executive.
Lam dismissed concerns that the changes will affect the city’s plans to achieve universal suffrage and allow residents to vote for their leader.
The opposition in the semi-autonomous territory, which advocates greater democracy, sees the changes as part of a broader effort to keep it out of the institutions.