China’s top legislature has approved a drastic overhaul of Hong Kong’s election system to ensure that only “patriots” govern the city. Supporters believe it will promote stability in the wake of widespread protests, while critics say pan-democrats will be shut out of a system which is already slanted towards pro-Beijing forces.

The size of the Election Committee which votes for chief executive will be expanded from 1,200 to 1,500 members, with most new members representing pro-Beijing interests. The committee will in future be able to nominate candidates for the Legislative Council as well as directly appoint some members of LegCo, which will be expanded from 70 to 90 members.

A vetting mechanism will be established for “reviewing and confirming the qualifications” of candidates for the Election Committee, the chief executive and the legislature.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meeting the press on Thursday. Photo: gov.hk.

HKFP has rounded up reactions from local political figures, activists and international politicians to the overhaul announced on Thursday.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam

“I don’t agree with the description that this work is a step back in democracy, this is to reform Hong Kong’s election system to fill the loopholes and faults in our election system. These loopholes and faults have created some unpatriotic people who disrupt national security and the order of Hong Kong in the political system…”

“We are not dealing with making the Legislative Council more sort of supportive of the Hong Kong SAR. We are just making sure that the Legislative Council, being such an important political structure in the Hong Kong SAR, is supporting ‘one country, two systems,’ will not do anything to undermine national security, and will continue to allow Hong Kong to move forward.”

“…there will be a committee to decide the qualification of individuals, whether they could contest in a particular election. This arrangement is not something new, it is not something new in Hong Kong, it is not something new internationally…this committee, or indeed, the proposed improvements to the electoral system, is not to screen out the opposition.”

Lo Kin-hei, chairperson of the Democratic Party

“For the Hong Kong pro-democracy camp, I believe this is much harder for us to participate in any forms of election in the future, because the threshold is so high, and they even allow the Election Committee members to nominate Legislative Councillors, and they have a vetting committee to vet your political beliefs,” Lo told HKFP.

“So, in the future, I believe that the space for the pro-democracy politicians will be much smaller, and it actually affects the willingness of the politicians of the pro-democracy camp, whether or not we should run. It affects how we think about the whole situation as well.

“In the past, we have been always saying that we should grasp any chance to voice our opinion and to take any possible seats, but with these kinds of changes, this kind of so-called reform of the electoral system, I believe a lot of politicians from our side, they are much less willing to participate or engage in that kind of election or council work…”

“…I think this kind of democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics is something that we really think is less democratic than ever, in the history of the Hong Kong SAR after 1997 when we returned to China.”

Alan Leong, former chairperson of the pro-democracy Civic Party

“Would it still be an election that can truly reflect public opinion after the amendments? Can those elected still be Hong Kong people’s representatives? These are serious questions that must be carefully thought through.”

Rita Fan, senior pro-Beijing politician and former president of the Legislative Council

“Some unruly lawmakers in the Legislative Council have just tried to stir up trouble. They just try to hold back the government. So we must rely on the Central government to help us improve the electoral system.”

“The development of Hong Kong’s political system lies in the hands of the NPC (China’s National People’s Congress) and its standing committee, which is clear in the constitution and the annexes of the Basic Law.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab

“This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself.”

“This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations, as a leading member of the international community.”

Starry Lee, chairperson of the pro-Beijing DAB party

“The DAB fully supports the NPC’s approval of the National People’s Congress’s decision on improving the electoral system of the HKSAR. In recent years, chaos in Hong Kong society has been very common, especially in 2019 when Hong Kong plunged into unprecedented danger under ‘one country, two systems’.”

“We can see some extremely destructive individuals took advantage of the space given by ‘one country, two systems,’ the election system, and the rules of procedure to arbitrarily destroy ‘one country, two systems,’ obstruct the government’s administration, and even paralyse the Legislative Council. Some of them even begged foreign forces to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, or even asked them to sanction Hong Kong and the country.”

“…I truly believe that when ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’ is implemented and the election system is reformed, Hong Kong’s political climate and culture in the Legislative Council will no longer be messy and will become healthier, more rational, and practical…”

Lord Alton of Liverpool

“This overhaul effectively leaves the fate of the opposition at the mercy of the pro-establishment (election) committee. Pro-democracy lawmakers stand no chance. This is a disgraceful attempt to legalise a chilling level of tyranny that will only result in further human rights abuse against the innocent citizens of Hong Kong.”

“The UK government has a duty to immediately respond against this overhaul. We must stand with Hong Kong, with the principle of democracy and against the growing legalisation of abuse that has spread across the city for years.” 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

“The United States condemns the PRC’s continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress decision today to unilaterally change Hong Kong’s electoral system is a direct attack on autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. These actions deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate. Beijing’s actions also run counter to the Basic Law’s clear acknowledgment that Hong Kong elections should progress towards universal suffrage.”

“We call on the PRC to uphold its international obligations and commitments and to act consistently with Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The PRC’s attempt to label its crackdown on Hong Kong as an ‘internal matter’ ignores the commitments Beijing made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to uphold Hong Kong’s autonomy and enumerated rights and freedoms until at least 2047.”

“…a stable, prosperous Hong Kong that respects human rights, freedoms, and pluralism serves the interests of Hong Kong, mainland China, and the broader international community. The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong.”

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

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.