Hong Kong’s parliamentary elections are set to be postponed for another year, until September 2022, as Beijing plans a major overhaul of the city’s electoral system.
The information was published on Friday by the South China Morning Post (4), which heard from people familiar with the matter who did not want to identify themselves.
The delay, if confirmed, would be in line with a new effort to rewrite electoral rules in Hong Kong to ensure the territory is ruled by patriots, whom Beijing defines as people loyal to the national government and the Communist Party.
The move could prove to be the biggest blow to the democratic hopes of the former British colony. The right to direct elections has been one of the main demands of the protesters during the 2019 protests which involved the city of more than 7 million inhabitants for months.
Zhang Yesui, spokesperson for the National People’s Congress, said on Thursday that he had the constitutional power to “improve” the Hong Kong system and that a bill would be discussed in the annual parliamentary session, which is due to open on Friday (5).
According to two Hong Kong broadcasters, who also spoke to people familiar with the issue, the changes would include increasing the size of the electoral committee – which selects the leader of Hong Kong – from 1,200 to 1,500, as well as questions legislative, which would go from 70 to 90.
Currently, the Legislative Assembly has 70 members, appointed on the basis of a complex system that almost automatically grants a majority to Beijing’s friendly bloc. Only 35 deputies are elected by direct ballot, and the rest are nominated by groups aligned with China.
The measures will reduce democratic representation on the Legislative Council and the electoral committee, which is expected to meet before the end of the five-year term of Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam in July next year.
Wider use of patriotic oaths should also strengthen loyalty – an action that has already been used to disqualify some members of the legislature.
A Hong Kong government spokesperson supported the prospect of electoral change, saying it is only with “the ruling patriots in Hong Kong” that the general competence of the central government could be implemented, guaranteeing the stability of the city.
On February 23, Beijing announced plans to issue a law requiring local lawmakers to swear allegiance to the Chinese government.
As a result, politicians whose oath is deemed false or unconvincing will not be able to take office in the District Council, considered the only fully democratic institution in Hong Kong, as its members are elected by direct vote.
The new rule will be debated on March 17 by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, dominated by Beijing-aligned politicians.
If approved, it paves the way for massive punishment of pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians, who make up nearly 90 percent of the 452 seats in the Hong Kong District Council. The move could prevent a massive defeat at the polls for Beijing-aligned politicians, as it did in 2019.
Most pro-democracy politicians and activists are either in prison or in exile after authorities dismantled the anti-government protests in 2019, which resulted in the imposition of the Beijing-enacted National Security Law. last year.
The legislation authorizes the punishment of four types of crimes against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with penalties that can lead to life imprisonment.
The Hong Kong court ruled Thursday to keep 47 pro-democracy activists in custody after four days of hearings in a case that raised concerns about Beijing’s crackdown on dissidents and allegations of accumulated rights violations.
Returned by the UK to control of China in 1997, Hong Kong is an island of deregulated capitalism, with multi-party politics, free speech and an autonomous judiciary – which is expected to be valid until at least 2047.