Scores of losing candidates in Hong Kong’s 2019 district council elections are set to replace the winners of those polls on a powerful committee which will choose the city’s future leader and some of its legislators.

The changes to the Election Committee are part of a controversial electoral overhaul ordered by Beijing, which critics say is intended to exclude pan-democratic politicians from power.

District Council. Photo: GovHK.

About 200 losing candidates in 2019 were appointed by the Home Affairs Bureau to various local committees.

The 200 mainly pro-government figures now hold seats on Area Committees, District Fire Safety Committees and District Fight Crime Committees, RTHK reported. They were among 600 who suffered a landslide defeat in 2019 in which pro-democracy candidates gained control of 17 out of 18 district councils amid record voter turnout, in the wake of the pro-democracy protests.

Carrie Lam and other government officials meet the press on March 30, 2021. File Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Elected district council members previously filled 117 seats on a 1,200-member election committee. Under Beijing’s changes 156 seats in an expanded 1,500-strong committee will be reserved for members of these three types of unelected local committees.

The election committee, which already picks the chief executive every five years, will in future have the power to nominate candidates for Legislative Council elections and even to directly elect 40 members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).

The number of publicly-elected seats will fall to 20 in a 90-member expanded LegCo from 35 out of 70 currently.

Critics say the government lavished resources and funding on area committees that were denied to district councils made up largely of pro-democracy district councillors, allegedly as a way to circumvent the latter and create “shadow district councils.”

The NPC’s voting result on a resolution to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system. File Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Area committees are officially intended to promote public participation in district affairs and organise community-wide activities. They now cover all of the city’s 18 districts, after two were added in April. The Home Affairs Bureau said in a response to Stand News that the additions were made due to popular demand.

The bureau told RTHK that members of the three types of committees are drawn from all walks of life and the government’s nominations were based on merit.

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Selina Cheng

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.