Hong Kong Leader Welcomes Electoral Changes Meaning More Control For Beijing
The move to ensure all electoral candidates are vetted by pro-China officials will make any expansion of seats or voting rights meaningless, commentators say.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday welcomed plans by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to require election candidates to be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, as a new pro-China party looks set to replace many familiar political figures with a new breed of CCP loyalist.
Speaking in Beijing, where she had attended the National People's Congress (NPC) annual session, Lam said plans unveiled last week to enable the committee to screen election candidates for loyalty to the CCP were an "improvement" on the partial democracy Hong Kong had previously enjoyed, which saw a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in the 2019 District Council elections in a year of mass protest.
"What I am doing is not about my personal preference or inclination," Lam told reporters in Beijing following a meeting with vice premier Han Zheng. "I'm doing this to improve the electoral system in Hong Kong."
She said the changes target "deficiencies in the electoral system ... that may ... undermine the fundamental principle of safeguarding China's national sovereignty, security and development interests."
Lam blamed political debate about when Hong Kong would move towards fully democratic elections, as promised under the terms of the 1997 handover, for the "difficulties" the city had faced recently, in an apparent reference to the 2019 protest movement, which began as an anti-extradition movement, then broadened to include demands for greater democracy and official accountability.
She said extensive consultations wouldn't be an option, given the "urgency" of the reforms, saying the people of Hong Kong could still eventually have a vote in the new system, but only for candidates vetted by Beijing.
'Those promises have been broken'
Her comments were in keeping with an Aug. 31, 2014 decree from the NPC standing committee allowing Hong Kong's five million voters a vote apiece in elections for the chief executive and the Legislative Council (LegCo) where candidates would have to be approved by Beijing.
The decree sparked the 2014 Occupy Central movement for universal suffrage.
"We could still move forward and achieve that ultimate objective in giving each person one vote in the selection of the Chief Executive and in forming the Legislative Council in future," Lam told reporters, dismissing the notion that democracy was defined by international standards.
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the insistence that candidates be vetted by Beijing was crucial.
"There was a glimmer of hope [for fully democratic elections] in the past, but now that Beijing has said it must maintain a firm grip on the reins of governance in Hong Kong, those promises have been broken," Lau told RFA.
"It makes a difference who is allowed to hold these seats," Lau said, adding that plans to expand the number of seats in LegCo will simply mean more seats for Beijing loyalists.
"This is actually very much in line with the idea that officials will be in charge," he said.
Beijing's Bauhinia Party
Meanwhile, a newly formed pro-Beijing political party, the Bauhinia Party, says it is poised to win seats in LegCo and on the election committee, its leader Li Shan told journalists in Beijing on Monday.
Speaking after the CCP has said that only "patriots" should rule Hong Kong, Li said that "the color of the Bauhinia Party is patriotism."
Li, who is a member of Beijing's advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said he speaks no Cantonese, and called on Hong Kong's seven million residents to learn Mandarin.
He said he decided to form a new political party along with "like-minded people" after feeling disheartened by the 2019 protest movement.
"Hong Kong is Asia’s World City. If, in an international city, you do not accept, or allow a person who speaks Mandarin to serve the people here, then it won’t be an international city," he said.
Former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau said the electoral "reforms" show that Beijing fully intends to wield political power directly, and control all aspects of life in Hong Kong, in future, despite earlier promises of a "high degree of autonomy."
"It’s not just the democrats who will be affected, but the whole of society including civil society," Lau said.
"This isn't just about not being able to vote, but also about not being allowed to speak out, express one's views or demonstrate."
"I don’t know if there will be any freedom of thought, freedom of religion or academic freedom left," she said, speaking in a personal capacity. "It's pretty terrifying, right?"
Reported by Lau Siu Fung and Lu Xi for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.