Hong Kong’s democrats have questioned the value of standing for future elections after legislators approved sweeping changes ordered by Beijing, which drastically reduce the number of elected politicians so that only “patriots” rule the city.

Lo Kin-hei, chairperson of the Democratic Party, said the party was “unhappy and disappointed” with the changes. The bill overhauling the political system was passed on Thursday with just two lawmakers voting against it, after most opposition legislators had walked out of the Legislative Council last November.

Lo Kin-hei
Chairperson of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei commenting on the bill overhauling Hong Kong’s election systems outside the Legislative Council on May 27, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lo said the representation of the people in the Legislative Council was now much less than before. “So this is not …good for Hong Kong, we don’t think it is a good way to pacify the Hong Kong people.”

Lo also confirmed that “some people from the pro-establishment camp or from the mainland” had reached out to him and his party members to try to persuade them to run in the upcoming Legislative Council election in December.

But he said the most important question was the best way forward for Hong Kong and its democracy movement, “and we will base our decision and discussion mostly on this kind of consideration.”

Under the newly revamped system, which Beijing introduced in March to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong, popularly elected seats in the legislature will be reduced to 20 from 35 currently, even though membership of the legislature will expand from 70 to 90 members.

A new expanded Election Committee dominated by forces sympathetic to Beijing will choose 40 members of the Legislative Council from its own ranks and will play a role in selecting candiates.

Candidates will also be vetted by a panel headed by government officials, as well as by the national security police.

The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as they make it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

The Democratic Party was not the only group that expressed hesitancy about contesting upcoming elections.

Jessica Leung Civic Party
Jessica Leung. File photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Jessica Leung, secretary general of the Civic Party, told HKFP the party would have to discuss whether to run in elections in the future, and also think about the party’s path ahead.

She said that if the people who were elected were supposed to be representative of the Hong Kong people, the election itself would first have to be accepted by the people.

The barrister said it would be worth discussing whether the parliamentary system was still a viable path for the pro-democracy camp.

‘Huge regression in democracy’

Fung Wai-wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU), told HKFP the electoral overhaul was a “huge regression in democracy.”

Fung Wai-wah Professional Teachers Union
Union President Fung Wai-wah. Photo: Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union.

Fung criticised the new composition of the Election Committee, where the number of seats allotted to the education sector has been cut from 60 to 30, only 14 of which would be elected.

He said his union had “low desire” in competing for Election Committee seats but would discuss with its members whether they would run in the broader Legislative Council poll.

“We also have to consider that the future composition of the Legislative Council will not be the same. A majority will be pro-establishment figures,” said Fung, questioning the power they would have if elected. “But of course we will continue consulting our members before making a decision.”

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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.