Hong Kong legislature unanimously passes overhaul of district council elections News
Fran1001hk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hong Kong legislature unanimously passes overhaul of district council elections

The Legislative Council of the Hong Kong unanimously voted to support a bill that overhauls the city’s district councils on Thursday, which will dramatically reduce the number of directly elected seats on district councils. Under a 2021 change to Hong Kong’s election law, the district councils served as one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to directly have their voices heard in elections.

According to the report published by the 15-member Bills Committee in charge of drafting the amended bill, the new bill aims to restore the function of district councils to providing services rather than being organs of political power. The bill also aims to strengthen the district governance structure. The actual impact of the bill, however, reduces the amount of seats directly elected by the public from about 90 percent to only 20 percent. The other 80 percent will be either appointed (40 percent) or elected in the District Committees Constituency election (40 percent). Also, under the amended bill, the total number of members in district councils will be slightly reduced from 479 to 470.

The bill also introduces a new eligibility review mechanism, which will ensure that those who are elected to the district council seats are “patriots administering Hong Kong.”

In a press release, a government spokesperson said the amendment is meant to “put an end to the chaos of the sixth-term [district councils] and restore [district councils] to the right track.” The spokesperson further commented that the “efficiency of district governance will be enhanced” and Hong Kongers will have a “greater sense of well-being.” The spokesperson went on to say:

The proposals strictly adhere to the three guiding principles for improving district governance, namely: (1) according top priority to national security; (2) fully implementing the principle of ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’; and (3) fully practising executive-led governance.

In response to the amendment, the EU published a statement accusing the reform of violating the commitment to democratic representation set out in the Hong Kong Basic Law and further undermining the “one country, two systems” principle. The EU also urged the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to establish universal suffrage and preserve Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

The bill’s passage comes amid an increasing crackdown on pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong. Just this week, Hong Kong authorities charged eight individuals with separatism under the same law and arrested another five individuals for suspected contravention. In response to the ongoing crackdown, the US issued a new travel advisory for their citizens, advising against traveling to China, Hong Kong or Macau due to “arbitrary enforcement of local laws…and the risk of wrongful detentions.”

The amendment bill will come into effect on July 10.