Hong Kong's Legislative Council chamber. Photo: RTHK

Candidates for Legislative Council and chief executive elections in Hong Kong will not only face high-standard national security checks but also have to fulfil complicated nomination requirements.

The number of members in the Election Committee that selects the chief executive will increase to 1,500 from 1,200, several Hong Kong media reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources attending the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing.

The 300 new members, coming from pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong, will form a new sector similar to the existing four. These are the industrial, commercial and financial sector; the professions; labor, social services, religious and others; and the politicians. A person will have to get at least 15 nominations from each of the five sectors and at least 188 nominations in total to stand for chief executive.

Some political analysts said Beijing will have the power to pick the candidates for chief executive because it has absolute control of the new sector. The pro-democracy camp, which controlled about 30% of the seats in the Election Committee and could nominate a candidate in the past, would probably be excluded from the election.

On Friday, Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the NPC, told delegates at the annual session in Beijing that annexes 1 and 2 of the Basic Law would be amended.

“The size, composition and formation method of the Election Committee will be adjusted and improved. The chief executive will continue to be elected by the Election Committee. 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,” Wang said.

Wang said there was a pressing need to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, because “clear loopholes and deficiencies” had allowed “anti-China, destabilizing elements” to undermine the nation’s sovereignty, safety and interests, as well as the authority of the Basic Law and the national security law in recent years.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi walks past Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 5. China is exercising more control over the election of Lam’s successor. Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP

“A mechanism of qualification review will be established throughout the entire electoral process,” he added.

The changes would establish a new democratic election system with “Hong Kong characteristics,” which would ensure that only “patriots” could rule the territory.

Media reports said Friday that the number of seats in the LegCo would increase to 90 from 70 with the new seats representing the Election Committee. The Election Committee will have more seats than the general election and the functional constituency.

Rita Fan, a former president of LegCo and also an ex-member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said Monday that each candidate in the LegCo election should be nominated by at least 10 Election Committee members. Fan did not say whether the nominations should come from each of the five sectors or at least one sector.

The number of districts in the general election would increase from five to at least 10, while each district would have two seats, Fan said. If there were only 10 districts with 20 seats, the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps would equally share the seats.

A supporter displays a placard outside the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on March 1, ahead of court appearances by dozens of dissidents charged with subversion in the largest use yet of Beijing’s sweeping new national security law. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer and prominent scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that in an extreme case, no democrat would be allowed to join the LegCo election, resulting in no opposition voice in the chamber.

If this were the case, Hong Kong’s political environment would go back to the British colonial era in the 1970s when there were only pressure groups on the streets but no opposition camp in the legislative body, Choy said.

Even if some moderate democrats could get enough nominations from the Election Committee, they would win no more than 25% of the 90 seats, Choy said, citing the best case scenario.

Johannes Chan, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said elections would become meaningless if the threshold for participation was set so high that only people preferred by the government could take part.

“The higher the threshold for anyone to join the election, the more meaningless it will become. Citizens might become indifferent to the polls as they would be left with no choice but candidates who are preferred by the government,” Chan said.

“The reason why we need an election is that the candidates can represent the public and different voices. The crux of the matter is not the number of seats but whether or not the election is fair and open,” he said, adding that it was important for any election to be fair and open.

Executive Council member Ronny Tong said people need not worry that Beijing would stop members from the pro-democracy camp from taking part in elections.

Increasing the number of Legco seats was good because there would be more opportunities for people from a wider political spectrum to join the legislature, Tong said.

Over the past two decades, pro-democracy supporters have accounted for about 60% of all eligible voters in Hong Kong.

However, due to their disadvantage in the functional constituency election, the democrats could only win about 33-41% of the seats in LegCo. In late 2019, Benny Tai, then associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that the pro-democracy camp could control the LegCo chamber by winning 35 of the 70 seats in the elections in September 2020.

However, some political analysts said the democrats would only win 10 seats in the general election plus several more in the functional constituency, or 14% of the 90 seats.

Meanwhile, sources said the coming LegCo election, which had been postponed by a year from last September for public health reasons, could be postponed again until the 1,500-strong Election Committee was formed later this year.

The proposals about the changes in Hong Kong’s election system will be discussed during the NPC plenary session in the coming days and approved by March 11. The standing committee will then approve the details of the proposals. The LegCo will finish the local law amendment by July.

Read: HK LegCo elections to be tailor-made for ‘patriots’