China carried out a sweeping shakeup of Hong Kong’s legislature on Tuesday, sharply reducing the number of elected seats in a move that will allow Beijing to exert more influence over the law-making body and press an anti-Democratic national security law it imposed last summer.
The changes, announced following a two-day meeting of China’s top legislature, would expand the number of seats to 90 but cut the number of elected spots to 20.
As it stands now, half of the 70-seat legislature is held by elected seats.
The maneuver is part of China’s strategy to crack down on Chinese Communist Party political dissent in the former British colony by giving the CCP the power to check democratic representation in the international financial center.
“It’s a very sad day for Hong Kong. The election system is completely dismantled,” former lawmaker and Democratic Party member Emily Lau told the Associated Press.
“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 take part,” Lau said.
Pro-democracy groups have taken to the streets since 2019 in opposition of a Chinese bill that would have allowed offenders in Hong Kong to be extradited to stand trial in the mainland.
The shake-up of the legislature also established a vetting committee that will review candidates’ qualifications to ensure the city is governed by “patriots.”
CCP-backed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the new committee will include government officials who are trusted by the Chinese central government, and she disputed claims that they will meddle in the democratic process, elect lawmakers they choose and restrict voting.
”I may as well say this very categorically that the central government is very sincere to give Hong Kong people so-called more democracy, that is, universal suffrage,” Lam said.
But the Democratic Party said Beijing’s efforts are just a blatant attempt to keep them out of office.
It’s chairman, Lo Kin-hei, questioned whether the new election system “can actually reflect what Hong Kong people think and what Hong Kong people believe.”
He said the changes have already sowed doubt among party members about their willingness to run for election.
“All those changes will affect how we discuss and affect how our party members think about the election system, and whether or not we will run for election in the future,” Lo said.
With Post Wires