A top Chinese politician announced plans on Friday to revise parts of Hong Kong’s constitution and institute sweeping political changes there in response to “chaos” in the city’s society.

One critic said the drastic changes would make future elections meaningless in the city, while a pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong said the time was ripe to plug loopholes in the system.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam (left) at the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress on March 5, 2021. Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP.

Wang Chen, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee, outlined the draft of the “NPC’s decision to improve the HKSAR’s electoral system” at the opening ceremony of the legislature’s annual meeting.

“The criteria for a patriot are to respect one’s own nation, sincerely support the resumption of the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong by the Motherland, and not to impair Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. ‘Patriots administering Hong Kong’ is also completely in line with the constitutional requirement of the HKSAR…”

Chief executive Carrie Lam

Among a variety of far-reaching changes which will further dilute the influence of pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong, Wang announced changes to the committee which elects the city’s leader every five years.

Wang said the committee, in addition to electing the chief executive, would also be able to elect Legislative Council (LegCo) members directly, as well as nominate candidates for LegCo elections.

“The chaos in Hong Kong society indicates that there are obvious loopholes and flaws in Hong Kong’s existing electoral mechanism,” said Wang in a livestreamed speech from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. “Necessary measures must be taken to eradicate the hidden concerns and risks in the system…”

Wang said the NPC would seek to amend Annexes 1 and 2 of the Basic Law adopted in 1990, seven years before Hong Kong’s handover, which set out the electoral methods for the chief executive and LegCo.

Five fundamental principles of the draft, as listed by Wang:

  1. Fully and accurately implementing the principles of “one country, two systems,” “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and “high degree of autonomy;”
  2. Steadfastly uphold national sovereignty, security, and development interests;
  3. Insisting on governing Hong Kong in accordance with the law;
  4. Complying with Hong Kong’s actual situation;
  5. Improving Hong Kong SAR’s efficacy in governance

The NPC will deliberate on the draft during the “Two Sessions,” a week-long meeting of around 5,000 members of the political elite serving on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the NPC.

The opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 5, 2021. Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP.

Wang added that once the amended annexes were implemented, the original text would be abolished.

Electoral overhaul

Local media cited sources as saying that the election committee which currently numbers 1,200 and the 70-seat LegCo would be expanded.

Election committee

NowTV and HK01 said the election committee would get 300 more members selected from Hong Kong members of the CPPCC.

NowTV said the number of nominations that a candidate for chief executive must obtain would increase from the current 150 people to 188, and candidates would have to obtain at least 15 nomination from each of the five sectors represented on the committee.

More legislative councillors

Both media outlets said that the number of lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature would be increased from 70 to 90, and the five “super seats” in the legislature would be axed. Currently, 35 of the 70 seats are popularly elected while the other members are elected by mainly pro-Beijing “functional constituencies” representing various professions or interests.

Vetting committee

NowTV said a committee would be set up to vet prospective candidates for the election committee, LegCo and District Councils.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday that the city would “spare no efforts” to “reflecting the views of different sectors of the Hong Kong community” and help the NPC Standing Committee amend Annexes 1 and 2 of the Basic Law.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“The HKSAR Government and I fully respect that the Central Government takes the lead to improve the electoral system,” a statement read. “We also support the five principles enunciated by Mr Wang Chen…”

University of Hong Kong Chair Professor of Law Johannes Chan told an RTHK radio show the proposed changes would make Hong Kong’s elections “meaningless.”

“The issue is not the number of seats in the legislature, but the arrangement of the election, and whether the election can be open and transparent,” said Chan. “The tighter the threshold for running in the elections and the higher the safety factors, the more meaningless the elections will become.”

Pro-Beijing legislative councillor Holden Chow said on Twitter that “as rightly pointed out by the NPC’s spokesperson, it’s time to plug loopholes in Hong Kong electoral system.”

“See the social unrest 2019, why on earth would we allow those colluding with foreign governments to govern HK, peddling de facto secession from China? Can’t sit on our hands.”

Premier Li Keqiang speaking at the opening ceremony of the NPC meeting in 2021. Photo: Xinhua video screenshot.

In the wake of the 2019 protests, China last June imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong and 47 former democratic politicians and activists face trial for subversion under the law, which provides for sentences up to life imprisonment.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang told the opening ceremony the principles of “one country, two systems, “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong,” and “high degree of autonomy” must be fully and accurately implemented, and the SAR’s “implementation mechanisms relevant to the constitution and Basic Law” have to be improved.

Li said the Chinese government was determined to prevent foreign forces from interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong and Macau.

The key terms were omitted in a report by the Chairman of the CPPCC Wang Yang at the opening of the consultative body on Thursday.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.