The largely pro-Beijing committee that elects Hong Kong’s leader will also choose some members of the legislature, a top Chinese official announced on Friday as part of a major revamp that will increase China’s control over Hong Kong politics.
“The election committee will be entrusted with the new function of electing a relatively large share of Legco members and directly participating in the nomination of all candidates for the Legco,” said Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, during the annual session in Beijing.
He added that the size, composition and formation method of the current election committee will also be adjusted, and that the chief executive, currently Carrie Lam, will continue to be elected by the election committee.
At present, half of the city’s 70-member Legislative Council is directly elected by voters.
The other half is elected by professional or special interest groups from sectors such as insurance, engineering and agriculture.
With the largely pro-Beijing election committee nominating all candidates for the legislature, opposition figures could be barred from running in the elections.
The draft changes came after the top Beijing official overseeing Hong Kong, Xia Baolong, declared that only Hong Kong must be governed by “patriots”.
Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing wants to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.
Mr Wang said in his speech that “clear loopholes and shortcomings” in Hong Kong’s electoral system have led to “anti-China” forces undermining the overall stability in Hong Kong and jeopardised national sovereignty, security and development interests.
The draft decision to revamp Hong Kong’s electoral system comes after the city’s pro-democracy movement gained traction in recent years as Beijing tightened its control.
Pro-democracy supporters say this increased control over Hong Kong’s political system goes back on Beijing’s word to give the region 50 years of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework, when the city was handed over to China by the British in 1997.
Months of anti-government protests erupted in 2019, at times descending into violence between police and protesters. This eventually led Beijing to impose a national security law on Hong Kong.
The legislation criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs and terrorism, and has since been used to charge about 100 people in the city, including 47 pro-democracy activists last week.
The activists were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year, aimed at selecting the strongest candidates who could give the pro-democracy camp a legislative majority.
If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members planned to vote down major Bills, which would eventually force Hong Kong leader Ms Lam to resign.
Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to paralyse the city’s legislature and subvert state power.