Hong Kong’s Legislative Council on Thursday (27) approved a set of laws that shape the biggest reform of its political system since the former British colony’s return to China in 1997, and represent a categorical step forward in the Beijing’s influence on the semi-autonomous city.
The changes include reducing the proportion of seats in the Legislative Assembly that are filled by direct elections – the total number of Council seats will drop from 70 to 90 and the seats filled by direct vote will drop from 35 to 20. In other words , if previously half of the seats were held by politicians elected by the citizens of Hong Kong, this number will now be less than a quarter of the Council.
And even these 20 places cannot be fought democratically. Indeed, another change approved Thursday creates a new body that will be empowered to review future Council members and bar the candidacy of those deemed “insufficiently patriotic” to China – in practice, anyone who is not fully aligned with Beijing can be prevented from doing so. in competition.
“These nearly 600 pages of legislation can be summed up in a few words: patriots in power in Hong Kong,” said Peter Shiu, member of the Allied Council of Xi Jinping’s regime, after approval. This phrase echoes a sort of slogan coined in 1984 by then-leader Deng Xiaoping and repeated in 2020 by the current powerful occupying Chinese leader.
Most of the changes were announced by Beijing in March, when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work plan was presented to the National People’s Congress, which, together with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Communist Party, constitutes the triad that forms the State of China.
Hong Kong lawmakers, however, have added some contributions, such as redefining voter boundaries and criminalizing any campaign to leave ballots blank – yet another way to restrict free political expression in an already scenario. not very democratic.
The approval of the new laws can also be interpreted as a harbinger of votes in the Legislative Council under the new configuration: the bills were approved with 40 votes for and only two against.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers are no longer opposed in the House since, in November last year, the Honduran authorities expelled four members defending the independence of the territory from the central regime because they felt their pledges of loyalty to Hong Kong weren’t sincere. In protest, the entire post-democracy bloc announced a collective resignation.
For the Chinese authorities, the electoral turning point aims to get rid of the “loopholes and shortcomings” which, from Beijing’s point of view, threatened national security during the wave of protests that took crowds to the streets in 2019.
The new audit committee with the power to disqualify candidates will be formed by an election scheduled for September 19. The election to the legislature, scheduled for September 2020 and postponed until this year with the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext, is expected to take place in December. In March 2022, the committee will also choose a managing director for Hong Kong. Current incumbent Carrie Lam did not say whether she would stand for re-election.
Lam said last month that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” principle was not “complete and absolute,” adding that the city must abide by Beijing’s laws and of the Chinese Communist Party, which turns 100 in July.
At the time, the governor referred to the ban on traditional annual vigils in honor of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the Chinese dictatorship cracked down on students calling for more democracy in Beijing on June 4, 1989. For For the second year in a row, police in Hong Kong – the only place in China where, in theory, vigils reminiscent of the massacre were still allowed – banned the acts, citing a risk of contamination by the coronavirus.
China has never provided a full account of the 1989 violence. Officially, the regime recognizes the deaths of 300 people, most of them soldiers, but human rights groups and witnesses estimate the number. victims by the thousands. The subject is taboo in Chinese society, so that in mainland China, any act in memory of the dead or in support of the demand of students at the time, still relevant today, is repressed by the authorities.
In 2019, the vigil for the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre took place against an already very tense political context in Hong Kong. A week later, the biggest protest movement against Beijing began, with almost daily protests in which the violence of the security forces called the attention of the international community to the excesses of the Communist dictatorship.
Last year, the law came a week after the Chinese Congress passed the new National Security Law for Hong Kong, which would be enacted the following month. 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.
This year, the vigil was once again banned due to Covid, although the health crisis in Hong Kong is under control – the city of 7.5 million people has a moving average of just one confirmed case per day. This Thursday, for the first time in seven months, the number of new infections was zero.