HONG KONG (AP) – Hong Kong Chairwoman Carrie Lam said Monday the city government “wholeheartedly” welcomes changes to the city’s electoral system that will greatly improve the central government’s control over Hong Kong’s policies and shut out critics of Beijing .
The Chinese authorities said the draft decision before the National People’s Congress in China would mean that the largely pro-Beijing committee that elects the Hong Kong leader would also elect a large section of the legislature to ensure that the city is protected from “patriots” to be led. The election committee would also have the right to review candidates for the Legislative Council and weed out anyone suspected of being insufficiently loyal to China and the ruling Communist Party.
Currently, half of the Hong Kong legislature is directly elected by voters, although the mass resignation of opposition lawmakers in protest at the expulsion of four of their colleagues for “unpatriotic” importance means that the body is now fully controlled by Beijing loyalists.
“There are gaps in the electoral systems, there are also flaws in Hong Kong’s systems,” Lam said at a press conference after she returned from the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “I fully understand that this is not a matter that can be fully addressed by the government.”
“I am glad that the central authorities have again used their constitutional powers to address this issue for Hong Kong,” she said.
She declined to respond to the views she had shared with central authorities on electoral reform, saying that many laws in Hong Kong needed to be changed. The NPC, China’s ceremonial legislature, will almost certainly be in favor of the draft decision, although it may not have immediate legal effect.
The planned election changes have sparked criticism in Hong Kong and abroad, including the United States.
On Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned them, “This is a direct attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms and democratic processes, restricting participation, diminishing democratic representation and stifling political debate. to defy the clarity of the people of Hong Kong and to deny their voice in their own government and governance. “
On the same day, China gathered its allies at the United Nations. Belarus – a country whose security forces have cracked down on opponents of long-time authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko – spoke out in favor of the changes.
“The fact that large numbers of developing countries have come together again to speak out for justice in the UN Human Rights Council fully shows that facts speak louder than words and always prevail,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian , at a briefing on Monday. “China’s determination to safeguard the interests of national sovereignty, security and development is unwavering.”
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the legislation will also increase the size of the Legislative Council from 70 to 90 and the Electoral Committee from 1,200 to 1,500. Seats on the election committee, which are now reserved for directly elected district advisors, will also be removed, further strengthening Beijing’s control over the body.
Lam also said she could not confirm whether the general election – which was postponed for a year last September, allegedly because of the coronavirus pandemic – would be postponed further due to the electoral reforms.
She said the central government authorities are “very righteous and very committed to achieving the goal of universal suffrage” promised to Hong Kong under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution that was drafted as the British surrendered Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Universal suffrage would give Hong Kong voters the right to vote for the city’s leader, although only Beijing-approved candidates are allowed to run.
Hong Kong has cracked down on dissent in recent months, and most of the city’s prominent opposition figures – including pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers – are in prison or in exile.
About 100 people, most of whom are pro-democracy activists and supporters, have been indicted under the city’s comprehensive national security law since its implementation in June. The NPC passed the law on Hong Kong, bypassing the Legislative Council, saying it was necessary to restore order after increasingly violent protests against the government in 2019.
The legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces to interfere in city affairs and terrorism.