China’s leaders plan to curb the influence of Hong Kong opposition groups on a body that selects the city’s top official, taking seats away from pro-democracy politicians and handing them to pro-Beijing loyalists, according to people familiar with the proposal.
At an annual legislative session in March, Chinese lawmakers are expected to vote on the proposed changes to the composition of a 1,200-member committee that picks Hong Kong’s chief executive, the people said.
The revisions would drastically reduce, or potentially eliminate, the 117 seats assigned to Hong Kong’s district councilors, a bloc now dominated by opposition groups, they said. These seats would be given to some of the more than 200 Hong Kong-resident members of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the people said.
The plan is part of sweeping changes presaged by the chief of Beijing’s office on Hong Kong affairs, Xia Baolong, in a speech on Monday in which he said that Hong Kong’s executive, legislature and judiciary must comprise “true patriots.” In his first public speech after taking the office in early 2020, Mr. Xia called anyone who opposes the governments of China or Hong Kong “destroyers” who shouldn’t be able to exert influence in the future.
Mr. Xia didn’t specify any proposed electoral changes, but the people familiar with the plans said details of the legislation are being completed ahead of the March 5 opening of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature. Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has a low public-approval rating, hasn’t said whether she intends to run for a second five-year term next year.
Beijing is increasingly asserting its power over Hong Kong after violent antigovernment protests rocked the city in 2019. The National People’s Congress imposed a national-security law on the former British colony in June, and authorities have since arrested more than 100 pro-democracy figures, disqualified opposition lawmakers and delayed local legislative elections scheduled for September by at least a year.
A Hong Kong government spokeswoman didn’t immediately offer comment on the plan to reassign seats on the electoral committee.
Opposition groups have said Beijing wants to wipe out all opposition and dissent in Hong Kong and in so doing erode rights and freedoms citizens were promised for half a century following the 1997 handover of sovereignty from the U.K.
Existing rules give 10% of seats on the 1,200-member chief-executive election committee to district councilors. Pro-democracy politicians would take most of those seats on the committee when it is formed because they won district council elections by a landslide in late 2019, bolstering the minority opposition bloc on the committee and increasing its sway in deciding among candidates.
Candidates for the city’s chief executive must secure more than 600 votes on the committee to secure the position.
The National People’s Congress is expected to also consider proposals to revise rules for Hong Kong’s district-council elections, the people familiar with the plans said. Under the system, which is still under discussion, district council seats would be distributed through proportional representation over a broader geographic area, rather than the current first-past-the-post system with one seat per constituency, in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins the seat, the people said.
That would prevent such lopsided outcomes as in 2019, when pro-democracy candidates won more than 80% of seats up for grabs. District council elections are the most democratic in Hong Kong’s political system, with only half of the city’s legislature being directly elected by the populace.
District councilors typically handle neighborhood affairs but can wield some political influence through limited roles in Hong Kong’s legislature and the election committee that chooses the city’s leader.
China’s elite legislative body, the National People’s Congress’s Standing Committee, is able to pass legislation at a later date if the plans aren’t completed in time to be voted on at the annual gathering of the full legislature.
Politics in Hong Kong
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