China’s top legislative body has approved major changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, with the 167 members present all voting in favour of the overhaul. The move reduces the number of seats in the legislature which are democratically elected by the public, and introduces a vetting committee to pre-approve potential candidates.

Beijing loyalist Tam Yiu-chung – Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) – said on Tuesday that members unanimously approved the amendments to Annex I and II of the Basic Law to revamp the city’s elections.

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
The Great Hall. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

In a video released by the DAB, the city’s largest pro-Beijing Party, Tam said that the city’s legislature – expanded from 70 to 90 members – will see 40 members selected by the Election Committee. The committee, largely made up of pro-Beijing loyalists, currently selects the city’s chief executive.

The Election Committee will see more representatives from patriotic groups, Tam said, as well as members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and other national organisations.

The remaining seats will go to 30 lawmakers in functional constituencies, while only 20 seats will be democratically elected by the public. Functional constituencies consist of professional or special interest groups, such as commerce, industrial, accountancy or education.

Tuesday’s vote came around three weeks after China’s rubber-stamp passed a resolution to “improve” the existing electoral rules in Hong Kong, with an aim to ensure only “patriots” administer the semi-autonomous region.

Legislative Council
Legislative Council. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

District councillors neutered

Tam also said district councillors will be ousted from the Election Committee, which increase its membership by 300, from the current 1,200. He said the move will “depoliticise” the government advisory body, preventing it from becoming a platform for “anti-China forces” to disrupt the city and paralyse the government.

Currently, 17 out of 18 district councils in Hong Kong are controlled by the pro-democracy camp, following their landslide victory in 2019. They are seen as the last opposition force left in the government, after pan-democratic lawmakers resigned en masse last November in protest to the disqualification of four of their colleagues.

Tam said there will be ten geographical constituencies with two seats per area. But he said the NPCSC did not lay out details of how exactly the new geographical constituencies will be drawn: “Some concrete details can only be released when the SAR government conducts local legislative works. Right now, it is the overall arrangement and the distribution of some quotas,” he said.

Tam Yiu-chung
Tam Yiu-chung reveals some details of the electoral overhaul. Photo: DAB Facebook screenshot.

Tam said police national security unit and the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR will play a role in helping a new vetting committee to review the qualification of candidates for the Election Committee, the chief executive and the legislature. “Because the national security committee and police are more familiar, they can have a more comprehensive understanding of whether the candidate is suitable or not, whether [he or she] upholds the Basic Law… and other relevant requirements,” Tam said.

After passing the scrutiny of the vetting committee, legislative election hopefuls will also need to secure at least two nominations from each of the five sectors in the Election Committee, Tam said.

The pro-Beijing figure added the changes approved by the NPCSC will take effect on Wednesday.

Election ‘improvements’

The implementation of the electoral changes is similar to the enactment of the national security law last June 30. Beijing passed the controversial legislation that outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign powers and terrorist acts without local legislative oversight.

At a weekly press briefing on Tuesday before Beijing approved the details of the overhaul, Chief Executive Carrie Lam hailed the “improvements” and said she will hold a press conference later to announce the follow-up work by the local government: “We have a duty to explain to people of Hong Kong why the improvements were needed,” Lam said. The government will also need to go through with local legislation and conduct elections later on during the year,” Lam said.

An estimated HK$2.5 million tax dollars have already been spent in less than two weeks to promote Beijing’s overhaul, HKFP reported last week.

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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.