The Chinese National People’s Congress approved Thursday a draft decision bill to dramatically reform Hong Kong’s electoral system, strengthening Beijing’s control over Hong Kong’s elections. The bill passed with near-unanimous support, with 2,895 votes in support, none in opposition, and one abstention.
The draft decision includes nine articles that reshape the processes Hong Kong uses to conduct elections. Among these reforms is the establishment of an expanded Electoral Committee, which will be responsible for nominating candidates for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong; the Electoral Committee will also have the power to select city legislators. The electoral committee will be expanded from 1,200 seats to 1,500, and the legislature will be expanded from 70 seats to 90. These additional seats will likely be unelected, increasing the likelihood that they will go to China-friendly candidates.
Additional reforms will ensure that members of the Electoral Committee undergo candidate qualification review by a special committee, who will ensure their qualifications are in conformity with Hong Kong and Chinese law. The National People’s Congress released a press statement summarizing commentary from Chinese and Hong Kong legal experts that expressed excitement for the reform, with Chan Man-ki, deputy to the NPC from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), stating that the reforms were “necessary to kick out those who are not qualified and violate the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong.” Current Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam celebrated the draft decision’s passage, saying that Hong Kong politics had no role for “unpatriotic people” going forward.
The international response has been mixed, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling it “the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself.” The 1997 Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, affirms that the National People’s Congress will afford Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and independent executive, legislative, and independent judicial power. However, Chinese calls for reform began after the 2019-2020 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, which saw protestors jailed and activists barred from running in local elections.