China approves plan to veto HK election candidates

BEIJING (AFP) – China’s rubber-stamp parliament voted yesterday for sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system – including powers to veto candidates – as Beijing moves to ensure only “patriots” run the city following huge pro-democracy rallies.

Beijing has acted decisively to dismantle Hong Kong’s limited democratic pillars after massive and sometimes violent protests coursed through the financial hub in 2019.

At last year’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party leadership imposed a draconian national security law on the finance hub that has since been weaponised against the democracy movement.

Dozens of campaigners have been jailed, smothering protests in a city which had enjoyed greater political freedoms than the authoritarian mainland under the “one country, two systems” arrangement established when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.

Yesterday, only one member of the 2,896-strong National People’s Congress abstained in the vote, which critics said will hammer another nail in the coffin of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

The decision aims to place responsibility for running the city in the hands of “patriots governing Hong Kong”, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters after the vote.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang talk after the closing session of the National People’s Congress, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: AP

Senior Chinese officials have made clear loyalty to the Communist Party will be key to deciding if a Hong Konger is a “patriot”.

Chinese state media yesterday sketched out some of the key provisions of the law, which will still need to be written and then promulgated under the country’s opaque political system.

Those include an Election Committee which votes for the leader to reflect Hong Kong’s “realities and representative of the overall interests of its society”, according to official news agency Xinhua.

The committee would be fattened out to 1,500 representatives, up from 1,200.

In addition, the law will bring in a “candidate qualification review committee”, as well as boost the number of seats in the LegCo – Hong Kong’s legislature – from 70 to 90.

It was not immediately clear how many of the seats would be directly elected by Hong Kong’s people.

But the initial details show China plans to reduce the number of directly elected officials in both the LegCo and the committee that chooses the chief executive, said professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies Willy Lam.

“It’s a fail-safe formula to ensure only people deemed patriots will be on those two important bodies,” he told AFP.

“From Beijing’s point of view, members of the pro-democracy coalition are not considered to be patriotic.”