Hong Kong lawmakers have passed the sweeping overhaul to the city’s election systems, in the absence of a legislative opposition. Forty lawmakers voted for the bill, and two voted against it.

The bill, first proposed by the Central government in March to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong, will reduce the proportion of directly elected lawmakers in the legislature, tighten control of elections, and introduce a vetting mechanism to screen candidates.

Legislative Council
Legislative Council. File photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

The Legislative Council voted on 369 amendments tabled by the government, including lifting the restriction on the number of people an Election Committee member can nominate.

An election committee member can now nominate up to five candidates if they hold positions in multiple special interest or district groups.

Another amendment passed stipulates that three more people will join the government’s vetting committee, which increases to a total of eight people. The Chief executive will appoint three non-official members to the committee. The administration will also have to report the composition of the committee to the Central government.

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The legislature also passed an amendment to bar any appeal against a decision made by the vetting committee based on the opinion of the national security committee.

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

More than 20 lawmakers took turns to say that they supported the overhaul at the LegCo meeting, with many pro-establishment lawmakers praising the bill as a “much needed step” to bring Hong Kong back to the right track.

See also: Explainer: How Beijing cracked down on Hong Kong’s elections

“…Having to state explicitly that ‘patriots govern Hong Kong’ is pathetic, it is a basic [requirement],” said lawmaker Tommy Cheung. “But Hong Kong was on a wrong track after the Handover because of the bomb left by the British government, troublemakers in Hong Kong kept on poisoning Hong Kong people…”

election overhaul revamp
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Cheung added that he hoped that Hong Kong people would “wake up,” and that he would “work with pro-establishment colleagues to use this opportunity to work hard and catch up on the time wasted.”

‘A real touchstone’

With all pro-democracy lawmakers leaving the legislature last year, the bill was passed after just over a month of LegCo meetings.

Cheng Chung-tai
Cheng Chung-tai in a Legislative Council meeting on May 26, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Civic Passion chair Cheng Chung-tai, one of the two non-pro-establishment lawmakers left in the legislature, said that the overhaul would be a “real touchstone of the principle of ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’.”

“This amendment on our electoral system, strictly speaking, is an amendment to our governing system,” said Cheng. He later voted against the bill.

Pierre Chan, a legislative councillor for the medical sector who also voted against the bill, said that the overhauled election system of the Election Committee was a “regression in democracy.”

Legislative head Andrew Leung thanked lawmakers after the votes were counted: “Members, after two days of meetings, the council has passed a very important bill for Hong Kong society.”

Lam welcomes revamp

In a press release, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was pleased the bill was passed within two months: “It is natural and in line with international norm to require people vested with governing powers to be patriotic. Whoever meets the requirements and criteria of being a patriot, irrespective of their political stance, can participate in elections and be elected in accordance with the law to serve the HKSAR. The improved electoral system will help the LegCo restore its constitutional function as a platform for rational interaction between the executive authorities and the legislature, which will clearly enhance governance.”

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. File Photo: GovHK screenshot.

She added that the security law “effectively restored stability” and – together with the electoral revamp – Beijing has demonstrated “unwavering determination in upholding ‘One Country, Two Systems’.” She hit out at foreign politicians and the media over “misleading claims” about the revamp.

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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.