Hong Kong’s Executive Council on Tuesday passed a series of amendments to voting laws in the former colony.
The Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021 would redraw electoral districts and increase the number of districts from five to ten, create a committee to vet candidates for public office, and criminalize incitement not to vote, to leave ballots blank, or otherwise cast invalid ballots. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said that the need for a vetting committee was due to “national security grounds,” and the criminal penalties included in the bill are to prevent “any manipulation to jeopardize or sabotage an election.”
Critics of the proposed legislation fear that the vetting committee will rob voters of genuine choice among candidates if all candidates must be loyal to the mainland China government. The vetting will include a full investigation by a special police unit, which will lead to further dampening of opposition candidates. Michael Davis of the Centre for International Policy Studies said that the amendments “clearly aim to finish the job of silencing opposition.”
Lam’s tenure as chief executive has seen massive protests in 2019 in response to an attempt to expand extradition laws to include mainland China, followed by the passing of a new and restrictive national security law the next year.
The amendments to the voting laws still need to be discussed by the Legislative Council, which is to take place Wednesday.