China passes new ‘patriotic’ Hong Kong election law that restricts opposition

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On Tuesday, in a unanimous and unsurprising decision, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, approved proposed changes to how Hong Kong’s lawmakers and the city’s head are chosen.

Prior to these changes, Hong Kong’s 70-seat legislature was more or less divided between directly elected seats and so-called functional constituencies, seats chosen by commercial and industrial bodies that generally favor Beijing’s allies. In theory, opposition parties could gain a majority in the body, taking almost all elected seats and a handful of functional constituencies, allowing them to have a say in how the city is governed.

From Tuesday, this will no longer be possible. Under the new system, the legislature will grow to 90 seats, 40 of which will be chosen by a newly empowered electoral commission, mostly appointed by the government.

Those hoping to run for those seats will face another hurdle: they must secure nominations from each of the five sectors of the electoral commission, which may be impossible for all but a handful of opposition candidates.

Under the new system, the electoral commission, composed mainly of pro-Beijing figures and previously responsible for selecting the city’s director general, will also be reshuffled. The 117 seats previously allocated to district councilors – who are elected directly by the public – will be cut in favor of government-appointed positions.
Pro-Beijing supporters gather outside the Hong Kong Legislative Council on November 12, 2020.
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Chinese and Hong Kong officials have described the changes in the law as necessary to secure the principle of “patriots ruling Hong Kong” following the often violent multi-month anti-government protests in 2019 and the introduction last year. , of a new, wide- reach the law on national security, prohibit secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.

This security law had already had a marked effect on city politics, with nearly all prominent lawmakers and pro-democracy activists arrested for allegedly breaking it by participating in a primary election ahead of the legislative elections scheduled in last September.

The hope for the organizers of the primary was to clear up the field of opposition candidates, concentrate the votes and give them a better chance – albeit still outward, statistically – of winning a majority in the legislature. Some figures had suggested that an opposition majority could block the government’s budget and possibly even force CEO Carrie Lam to resign.

Prosecutors argued the proposals amounted to subversion and arrested nearly everyone involved in the primaries, many of whom now face up to ten years in prison after their political lives are over.
The elections they were planning were ultimately postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will likely be postponed again as the government adopts the new guidelines adopted by Beijing. When they finally move forward, it may be without organized opposition, with few numbers to rally voters and even fewer who could do so while having a chance of being approved by the electoral commission.

Speaking earlier this month, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said “there is no so-called international standard of democracy. Every democracy needs to address the proper context of this. particular country, or that particular place “.

“We are improving the electoral system by making sure that whoever governs and administers Hong Kong in the future will be someone who loves the country, who loves Hong Kong,” she added.

The United States, meanwhile, described Beijing’s decision as an “attack on democracy in Hong Kong.”

In a statement this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the changes to the electoral system were “a direct attack on the autonomy promised to the people of Hong Kong under the Sino-British joint declaration.” which governed the city’s transition from British rule to Chinese rule. , and were contrary to the spirit of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.

“These actions deprive Hong Kong people of a voice in their own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation and stifling political debate,” he added. “Beijing’s actions also go against the clear recognition of the Basic Law that elections in Hong Kong should progress towards universal suffrage.”

Report written by Jadyn Sham in Hong Kong and CNN Beijing office.

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