Hong Kong’s democrats will face tough screening before they are allowed to run as candidates for Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in December, according to election rules just approved in Beijing by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC).
After a two-day meeting in Beijing, the NPC’s standing committee approved on Tuesday amendments to Annexes 1 and 2 of the Basic Law. Under the changes, the election committee that selects the Chief Executive will be expanded from 1,200 members to 1,500.
The 117 seats representing the District Council will be replaced by members of the government-appointed District Fight Crime Committees, the District Fire Safety Committee of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, as well as representatives of associations of Hong Kong residents in the mainland.
A new, fifth sector will be added to the Election Committee, comprising deputies to the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), as well as representatives of “Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations.”
The LegCo will be expanded from the present 70 members to 90, with 40 of those seats to be returned by the Election Committee, 30 reserved for functional constituency candidates and only 20 for the general election.
At present, there are 35 seats for the general election, plus five so-called “super District Council” seats, in the 70-seat LegCo.
All potential Legco candidates must first be nominated by at least two members from each of the five sectors in the Election Committee. National security police officers will scrutinize the election hopefuls, before passing their findings to the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, which is chaired by the Chief Executive.
The security committee will then make a decision as to the suitability of the would-be candidates, offering its opinions to a new vetting body – the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, which will be formed by key Hong Kong government officials.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy members will find it difficult to become LegCo election candidates under the new rules, said Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer and prominent scholar at the Chinese University Hong Kong. Even if some moderate democrats could enter the LegCo, they would only control no more than 15 seats, or one-sixth of all 90 seats, he added.
Choy said it was “ridiculous” that anti-crime and fire safety committees will have several more seats than professionals such as those from legal sectors. With the electoral changes, Beijing would have tight control over the Chief Executive election while Hong Kong people’s representation on the Election Committee would be sacrificed, Choy said.
Besides, the political influence of the traditional pro-Beijing parties such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong might decrease as Beijing will likely rely more on new pro-Beijing elites in the 40 Election Committee seats in LegCo, Choy said.
Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said he believed that the electoral rules and functions of the District Council would also be changed in the future, although it was not an urgent task. The next District Council elections will be held in 2023.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in a media briefing on Tuesday that the electoral changes were not aimed to boot the democrats from the LegCo.
“It’s very unfair to say that democrats are not patriotic. In the past, present and future, there will be democrats who are patriots,” Lam said. “The five sectors of the Election Committee will only give nominations to patriots. People who have not threatened the national security or colluded with foreign powers and have the ideas to serve Hong Kong people will get enough nominations.”
Lam added that it was not demanding to require all LegCo candidates to be nominated by at least two members from each of the five sectors in the Election Committee. She said candidates would have “balanced support” from different sectors under such rule.
The next Legco elections will take place in December and current lawmakers would stay on in the council until then, Legco president Andrew Leung said Tuesday. Last September, the LegCo elections were postponed by one-year for Covid-19 public health reasons.
Lam said the government would submit an amendment bill to Legco in April about the legal changes needed for the electoral system overhaul. She said she hoped the amendments would be passed by the end of May while a new round of voter registration would then be carried out in June.
She said the Election Committee polls would take place in September while the Chief Executive election would be held in March 2022.
Lam said a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee would be created as in the past, returning officers tasked with vetting candidates had been threatened and doxxed. She said the committee would be comprised of a few Hong Kong top officials, who are not afraid of doxing and foreign sanctions.
The NPC standing committee also announced on Tuesday to set up a convenor system for the Election Committee. In case there are some unexpected problems that cannot be resolved by legal means, a senior person will be appointed as a convenor of the Election Committee.
The convenor will chair meetings of the committee and appoint some convenors in each of the committee’s five sectors. The system is aimed to resolve electoral problems in some extreme situations.
Lam said the convenor should be a vice chairman of the CPPCC and have no position in Hong Kong government. Currently, the two vice chairmen of the CPPCC representing Hong Kong are former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and Tung Chee-hwa.
Leung said Tuesday that he did not know much about the position but he was willing to serve the nation and Hong Kong if he was capable.