Hong Kong is set for more upheaval as China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) considers a proposal to overhaul the territory’s electoral system to ensure “patriots” are in charge, at its week-long annual meeting that began on Friday morning.
Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the NPC, said on Thursday the rubber-stamp body had the constitutional power to “improve” Hong Kong’s system and that the electoral structure needed to fully implement the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” in what could be the biggest blow to the city’s democracy since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong’s Cable TV and Now TV, citing unnamed sources, said the changes would include increasing the size of the election committee that selects Hong Kong’s leader from 1,200 to 1,500 people, and the city’s legislature from 70 to 90 seats.
District councillors would also be removed from the committee that chooses the chief executive, while a new body would be set up under the chief executive to vet all candidates for elected office, according to Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu who is monitoring events in Beijing.
Local media reported the already-delayed legislative council elections would probably deferred for another year until September 2022.
Opening the NPC on Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing would “resolutely guard against and deter” interference by external forces in Hong Kong’s affairs.
“China has received a lot of international criticism over the past year due to its reforms in Hong Kong,” Yu said. “And China hasn’t responded with any concessions. It has responded by doubling down and hardening its stance.”
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said any changes to the rules governing elections were the “prerogative” of Beijing.
“Only through ‘patriots governing Hong Kong’ can the Central Government’s overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR be effectively implemented, the constitutional order as set out by the Constitution and the Basic Law be effectively safeguarded and the long-term stability and safety of Hong Kong be achieved,” he said in a statement released late on Thursday night.
The reforms are likely to deal a serious blow to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy politicians and activists who have been under pressure since China imposed a broadly-worded national security law on the territory in the wake of last year’s NPC.
Some have gone into exile while others are facing trial under the legislation.
Prominent pro-democracy campaigner and media tycoon Jimmy Lai is currently in jail pending trial under the law on charges of “foreign collusion” while 47 people accused of “subversion” for organising primary elections to choose their candidates for the delayed legislative election, were on Thursday also remanded in custody and mostly denied bail.