Hong Kong election officers open a ballot box to start vote counting at a polling station of the local District Council election in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP/Martin Law/Eyepress

The Chinese government is expected to push forward changes to the election system in Hong Kong in March to ensure the city is administered by “patriots.”

Hong Kong’s election system must be changed so people who “oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong” would not take up positions of authority, Xia Baolong, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said in a speech in a closed-door “one country, two systems” forum in Beijing on Monday.

Hong Kong’s leadership, from the executive to the legislature and judicial systems, must be composed of “true patriots,” said Xia.

“Those who hysterically attack the central government, openly advocate ‘Hong Kong independence,’ bad-mouth or spread pessimism about China and Hong Kong in the international community or beg for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong are undoubtedly not patriots,” he said.

He added that those who supported the so-called “burn with us” tactic for mutual destruction during the social unrest in 2019 were destroyers of Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and were “absolutely not patriots.”

Xia said “different political views” were allowed in China, but “things that endanger the country’s fundamental system – the socialist system led by the Communist Party of China – are absolutely not allowed.”

Over the past weekend, several pro-Beijing academies and newspapers have been calling for the reform of Hong Kong’s election system, which they say have five loopholes that need to be fixed.

Han Dayuan, a professor of Constitutional Law and the Dean of Renmin University of China Law School, told Xinhua that Hong Kong’s election system had failed to fulfill the original idea and principle of the Basic Law, ensure that all election candidates are “patriots,” effectively reflect the nation’s will and Hong Kong’s overall benefits, ensure that different sectors are evenly represented and prevent foreign powers from intervening in the city’s democratic development and threatening China’s national security.

He Junzhi, a vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said most countries examined the qualifications of their election candidates and had some basic principles to ensure the candidates running for public office are patriots.

Pedestrians walk past campaign banners for Hong Kong’s district elections, scheduled to take place on November 24, in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong on November 22, 2019. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri

Many loopholes in Hong Kong’s electoral system were exposed during the district council election in 2019 and during some preliminary procedures in the run-up to the Legislative Council election originally scheduled for last year, He added.

Besides, many necessary rules had not been fully implemented, such as regulations on the oath-taking system for public employees and qualifications for election candidates, He said.

It was likely that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) would take the initiative to change the election system for Hong Kong, instead of going through the usual “five steps,” which involve the Legislative Council’s approval, said Lau Siu-kai, another vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

The matter would be first discussed in the “two sessions,” which refer to the annual meetings of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in early March, and be approved by the NPC Standing Committee, Lau said.

In 2004, the NPC Standing Committee said any reform in Hong Kong’s election system must go through “five steps,” which include a proposal from the Chief Executive to Beijing, an approval from the NPC Standing Committee, an approval from the LegCo with more than two-thirds of lawmakers voting for it, approval from the Chief Executive and the final approval from the NPC Standing Committee.

Under such procedures, the number of seats in the Legco increased from 60 to 70, while the number of voters on the Election Committee, which selects the Chief Executive, rose from 800 to 1,200 in 2012.

In 2015, a reform proposal in the Chief Executive election was vetoed by the pro-democracy legislators, who called it “fake universal suffrage” as Beijing could screen the candidates in advance. The veto came after the 79-day “Umbrella Movement,” or Occupy Central protests, in late 2014.

The results of the 2019 district council elections, in which the pro-democracy camp won by a landslide, were “highly abnormal” and unfair as the elections happened after the anti-extradition protests, said Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole member on the NPC Standing Committee.

Hong Kong society should reach a consensus that the city needs to be ruled by “patriots,” the “one country, two systems” is the best and only way out for the city and the central government has comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong, Tam said.

Lo Kin-hei, the chairman of the Democratic Party and a Southern District Councillor, said Beijing wanted to ensure that the pro-establishment camp would win the Legislative Council election in September and suppress Hong Kong people’s voice in the political system.

On November 24, 2019, a total of 2.94 million Hong Kong people, or 71% of all registered voters, elected 452 new District Councillors. The pro-democracy camp won 385 seats, or 85% of all the seats, and 17 chairman positions in 18 District Councils. The pro-establishment camp complained that the elections were unfair as many voters only cared about political issues, not local matters, due to the influence of the protests.

On July 11 and 12 last year, more than 600,000 participated in the primary elections to figure out the best pro-democracy candidates for the LegCo elections, which were originally set to take place last September but were postponed by a year for public health reasons.

Last month, more than 50 pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers were arrested for allegedly violating the national security law as they took part in the primaries.

In late 2020, Beijing asked pro-establishment politicians for suggestions on how to change the election system to block the pro-democracy camp from winning a majority in the LegCo election in September 2021 and influence the chief executive election in March 2022.

Local media reported that all election candidates would be screened by a dedicated department in the future, while most of the incumbent pro-democracy district councilors would be disqualified.

The structure of the Election Committee would be changed, while the districts for the LegCo elections would be redefined, according to suggestions made by pro-establishment politicians.

Read: Beijing plans to vet Hong Kong legislature candidates

Read: China aims to tighten grip on HK leader election body