Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam is unable to rule out another delay to the legislative election. The news comes as China’s parliament is expected to pass a resolution on Thursday on overhauling the city’s elections to ensure only “patriots” hold power.

At a press conference on Monday following her visit to Beijing, Lam said the government fully welcomed Beijing’s plan to “improve” Hong Kong’s electoral system. She said the amendments were “urgent” to tackle “flaws and loopholes” in the system, which the semi-autonomous region could not handle on its own.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam at a press conference on March 8, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

It was the first time Lam met the press after her trip to Beijing last week, where the annual parliamentary meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is taking place.

The NPC is set to give the green light for plans to amend the city’s electoral rules to ensure “patriots ruling Hong Kong” as the Two Sessions meeting concludes on Thursday. Local media cited sources as saying that the Chinese authorities may reduce the ratio of directly-elected legislative seats and oust all district councillors from the Election Committee that picks the chief executive.

The reports also stated that the Election Committee will be endowed with new powers, including nominating candidates to stand in the legislative polls. Meanwhile, a new committee will be set up to screen all potential candidates for the Election Committee, Legislative Council (LegCo) and District Councils.

Lam said the city will hold several elections in the coming year, but she could not confirm whether the LegCo election scheduled for September will be delayed again. She also signalled a potential change in the date of selecting the Election Committee, which was projected to take place in December.

“I cannot tell you at this point whether we need to defer the coming election,” she said.

Last July, Lam invoked her emergency powers to postpone the 2020 Legislative Council election, citing Covid-19 fears. Pro-democracy legislators who were still in office at the time, slammed the move as “denoting a constitutional crisis,” while some opposition figures criticised the government as not respecting citizens’ right to vote when the democrats were leading in the polls.

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Hong Kong’s District Council election in 2019. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

When asked whether the proposed electoral changes were designed to benefit candidates from the pro-establishment camp, Lam rejected claims of favouritism and said the amendments were “right in terms of political ethics” to make sure whoever administers Hong Kong is “patriotic.”

“How can one who is governing a place [not be] patriotic to the country? It is inconceivable,” she said.

Lam then hit out on critics who saw the move to change Hong Kong’s electoral system as tightening control on the pro-democracy camp. She said the government was seeking to handle “non-patriots” who challenge the central authorities, which was not an issue of democracy.

“There is no so-called international standard of democracy,” Lam said, saying electoral changes were specific to the place and time. The most relevant context for Hong Kong would be One Country, Two Systems, she added.

Pro-establishment lawmaker and former security minister Regina Ip backs Beijing’s role to steer electoral amendments in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong leader said the government will conduct three stages of work soon, the first being a “comprehensive” and an “intensive” explanation on the electoral changes to the public. The authorities will then hear the views of different sectors on the amendment of Annex I and II of the Basic Law, followed by implementing local legislative work.

But Lam said there will not be a large-scale public consultation, citing urgency in “perfecting” the local electoral system. She claimed Hongkongers have expressed the need for improvements to be made.

“The views of people in Hong Kong have been clear,” she said.

Not a ‘regression’

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Sunday, former secretary for justice Elsie Leung said Beijing’s amendment of Hong Kong’s electoral system did not signify a “regression” of the city’s democratic development.

The ex-vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee said that – after being shook by the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests – Hong Kong must “go back on the right track.”

“One can only blame we did not do [political reforms] well over these 20 odd years.”

However, speaking to RTHK on Monday, ex-Democratic Party chair Emily Lau said that the overhaul represents a regression and would erase years of democratic progress in the city.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.