China approves plan to reform Hong Kong electoral system | News | DW | 11.03.2021

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China approves plan to reform Hong Kong electoral system

The unanimous vote on the final day of China's National People's Congress endorses tighter control over Hong Kong for the ruling Communist Party.

China's parliament voted to pass legislation on Hong Kong's electoral system on Thursday.

Chinese leaders are hoping to bring in a "patriotic" government in the enclave after months of pro-democracy rallies shook the city.

How did the NPC vote?

The National People's Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the planned changes. 

The legislation passed with only one abstention and 2,895 delegates voting in favor. The Congress regularly unanimously or overwhelmingly rubber stamps plans proposed by the Party.

What does the Hong Kong election reform law change?

The plan will allow the ruling Communist Party to appoint more of Hong Kong's lawmakers, reducing the share elected by the public.

  • Election committee members increased by 300 to 1,500;

  • Seats in the legislative council increased from 70 to 90;

  • More seats for Beijing loyalists, fewer for opposition candidates.

The election committee is responsible for choosing Hong Kong's Chief Executive and many of the members of the legislative council (LegCo).

What does this mean for Hong Kong?

An increased number of pro-Beijing officials would weaken the power of the opposition to influence the city's leadership.

The move is seen as a crackdown on the democratic movement and an erosion of the autonomy guaranteed to the city when it was handed over to China in 1997.

Watch video 02:27

What to expect from China's National People's Congress

Beijing rejected these complaints and said the new measures were necessary to protect the region's stability.

How did officials in Hong Kong react?

The new legislation has been seen as the final nail in the coffin for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

It was welcomed by some, including Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam. She said that her government would "like to pledge our staunch support for and sincere gratitude to the passage of the Decision on improving the electoral system."

The new powers place the city "firmly in the hands of forces that are patriotic and love Hong Kong," parliamentary spokesman Wang Chen said.

Watch video 03:38

Beijing deals blow to Hong Kong electoral hopefuls

However, Bernard Chan, a senior advisor to Lam, called the move a "setback" for the progress the city had made on democratic development since it was released by the UK in 1997.

"Over the last 23 years, we clearly didn't do a good job to show to the central government that these so-called political reforms are actually helping 'One Country, Two Systems'," Chan told AFP.

"Beijing wants to exert very tight control,'' said Emily Lau, a member of the city's Democratic Party and former member of the legislative council. "It's not democracy.''

Critics slam Hong Kong electoral reform

The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab slammed the decision in a statement on Thursday.

"This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself," Raab said.

"This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations, as a leading member of the international community."

Kenneth Chan, Associate Professor in political science at Hong Kong Baptist University spoke DW about what may come next.

"Beijing says it is improving Hong Kong’s electoral system, but in my mind, what they are doing is demolishing Hong Kong’s infrastructure layer by layer," he said.

"The way that the National Security Law and the electoral changes have been introduced is a prelude to autocracy," he added.

"After 2019, China basically said they had enough of it and they wanted to move on to construct a Hong Kong that’s based on a model of capitalism without freedom," Dr. Victoria Hui, associate professor in political science at the university of Notre Dame, told DW.

"The only thing that the rest of the world can do is to make Beijing realize that it’s not possible to keep Hong Kong’s capitalism without freedom."

US officials also slammed the plan, saying Beijing was stifling democracy in the city. The move is "a direct attack on Hong Kong's economy, its freedoms and democratic processes," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The changes are aimed at "reducing democratic representation and stifling political debate," Price added.

Beijing's increasing influence in Hong Kong

The reform of Hong Kong's electoral system is the most recent step in an ongoing clamodown on civil liberties in the city. Hong Kong had previously held a privileged status as a semiautonomous enclave with its own Basic Law.

Beijing watered this down in 2020 with the imposition of a national security law — this outlaws broadly defined acts of "sedition, subversion and collusion with foreign powers."

Several pro-democracy leaders have been arrested under the law. Others went into exile.

Protesters fought pitched street battles with the police for weeks in opposition to the increased powers granted to Beijing. 

Additional reporting by William Yang, DW's correspondent in Taipei.

ab/rt (AP, dpa, AFP)

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