Hong Kong lawmakers met for the first time on Friday morning to form a Legislative Council subcommittee that will discuss the city’s electoral overhaul and expedite the necessary changes to local laws after Beijing hands down its detailed plan next week.

Martin Liao.
Martin Liao. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

Within the first three minutes of the inaugural meeting, pro-establishment caucus leader Martin Liao and Horace Cheung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) were elected as the chair and deputy chairpersons of the subcommittee respectively.

In his opening speech Liao told members of the sub-committee: “[The National People’s Congress (NPC) Decision] does not arise from Article 45 of the Basic Law regarding the electoral systems, this is not subject to legislative amendment by the Legislative Council. According to the NPC decision, this is the prerogative of the central authorities. This is not bound by the so-called five-steps process of constitutional reform.”

Several lawmakers questioned Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang over the logistical details of a vetting committee that will approve nominations for candidates running in Hong Kong elections, asking whether its members would face nationality restrictions, or be subject to the city’s Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

Tsang, however, reiterated that he had no further information before the NPC’s Standing Committee (NPCSC) hands down more details of the overhaul plan early next week.

electoral overhaul election
A government banner promoting the electoral overhaul, photographed outside the MacPherson Playground in Mong Kok. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lawmaker Alice Mak of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said the government should explain to the public and to western countries that the overhaul plans are within the constitutional purview of Beijing to counter criticisms that the shake-up is being imposed by Beijing instead of being legislated on locally.

“I think the [Hong Kong] government should explain the articles in the Constitution [that electoral reform is under the NPC’s purview], otherwise the public will be misled by these wrongful arguments put forward by foreign forces,” Mak said. “We need to explain to [consuls] in Hong Kong as well. We don’t expect them agree with us, because they may have their preconceived stance anyway. We must not allow them to point fingers at us.”

Lawmaker Paul Tse, however, pressed the secretary on the government’s inability to provide straight answers to Hongkongers’ questions about the NPC’s powers to revamp the city’s electoral system.

Paul Tse.
Paul Tse. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

“Every time we asked you a question, you said ‘well our team will work on it,'” Tse said. “The [CMAB] did not have to work on the epidemic. You’ve got this one job which is the electoral reform. We are working things within a few months, where it used to take years to work on. Don’t act too slowly,” he added.

The LegCo subcommittee was set up following Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s suggestion that the legislative process required to amend local laws be fast-tracked in order to implement the NPC Decision as soon as as possible. The subcommittee will be converted to a bills committee as soon as NPCSC hands down a more detailed overhaul plan next week.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.