Hong Kong, May 28 (ANI): With the overhaul of election rules in Hong Kong, China has stamped out the opposition by reducing public voting rights. The Hong Kong legislature passed a bill amending electoral laws that drastically curtails islanders' right to vote as the majority of lawmakers would be selected by a pro-Beijing committee vetted by national security officers for its legislature.
The changes to Hong Kong's elections come as Beijing further tightens control over the semi-autonomous city that saw months of anti-government protest and political strife since 2019.
The latest Chinese move will not only undermine democratic institutions in the semi-autonomous city but has wiped out the prevailing pro-democracy sentiments. It severely constrains people from meaningfully participating in their own governance and having their voices heard for which they have been fighting for so long.
Chinese authorities said the electoral shake-up is aimed at getting rid of "loopholes and deficiencies" that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and ensure only "patriots" run the city. The changes will reduce the proportion of seats in the legislature that are filled by direct elections from half to less than a quarter. A new body will vet candidates and bar those deemed insufficiently patriotic towards China from standing.
The number of seats in Hong Kong's legislature will be expanded to 90 from 70, with 40 of them elected by a largely pro-Beijing election committee, which is also responsible for choosing the chief executive. The number of legislators elected directly by Hong Kong voters will be cut to 20, from the previous 35.
The new law empowers the city's national security department to check the backgrounds of potential candidates for public office and set up a new committee to ensure candidates are "patriotic." A pro-Beijing lawmaker described the changes very aptly by saying "these 600-or-so pages of the legislation come down to just a few words: patriots ruling Hong Kong".
The move was quickly denounced by the United States, which accused China of undermining Hong Kong's democratic institutions. Democracy campaigners and Western countries say the political overhaul moves the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has had since the handover.
Hong Kong has a limited democracy, something at the root of years of growing political unrest, but a vocal minority opposition was allowed in the city's legislature. When islanders can vote they tend to do so overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, something that has rattled authoritarian Beijing.
The electoral changes are aimed at dismantling this last democratic pillar, analysts believe. Their first step was to impose a national security law last year that outlawed much dissent. More than 100 prominent democracy supporters, including opposition lawmakers, have since been arrested under the law. Beijing then turned its attention to the city's political system.
The changes in electoral law are the latest in a string of moves to ensure people elected to office or serving the city are loyal to Beijing. China had earlier promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing. But China imposed a national security law in 2020 to criminalise what it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it or arrested for other reasons.
Elections for the election committee are set for September 19, and for the legislature three months later. The committee will choose a chief executive on March 27, 2022. The new vetting committee empowered to disqualify candidates will work with national security authorities to ensure those standing are loyal to Beijing. (ANI)