Hong Kong Changes Election Law, Cuts Direct Public Voting

Pro-Chinese lawmakers attend the second meeting of the “Improving the Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments)” Bill 2021 at the Hong Kong Legislative Council on Thursday, May 27, 2021. The Hong Kong legislature closed on Thursday changing election laws that would drastically reduce the public’s ability to vote for lawmakers and increase the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city. (AP Photo / Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (AP) – The Hong Kong legislature on Thursday passed a bill to amend electoral laws that significantly reduces the public’s voting capacity and increases the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city.

The new law empowers the city’s national security department to screen potential candidates for public office and sets up a new committee to ensure candidates are “patriotic.”

The number of seats in the Hong Kong legislature will be increased to 90, including 40 elected by a largely pro-Beijing electoral committee. The number of lawmakers elected directly by Hong Kong voters will be reduced to 20, from 35 previously.

The bill, passed by 40 to 2 votes, met with little opposition, as most lawmakers are largely pro-Beijing. Their pro-democracy colleagues resigned en masse last year to protest the ousting of four lawmakers deemed insufficiently loyal to Beijing.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers hailed the bill during debate on Wednesday and Thursday, saying reforms would prevent those who are not loyal to Hong Kong from standing for election.

Some have pointed out that several bills that impact people’s livelihoods were passed with greater ease this year than in 2020, when pro-democracy lawmakers at times filibustered or behaved in the dark. disruptive way during meetings to block passage of bills they disagreed with.

The changes to the Hong Kong election come as Beijing further tightens its control over the semi-autonomous city which has seen months of anti-government protests and political strife in 2019.

Authorities arrested and charged most of the city’s staunch democracy advocates, such as Joshua Wong, who was a student leader of the 2014 protests, as well as media mogul Jimmy Lai, who founded the Apple Daily newspaper.

In March, the Chinese parliament approved changes to the city’s electoral system, which then led to Hong Kong’s proposals.

It is the latest in a series of measures to ensure that those elected or serving the city are loyal to Beijing. An amendment the legislature approved earlier this month requires the city’s more than 400 district councilors – who primarily deal with municipal affairs – to be sworn in by pledging their loyalty to Hong Kong and uphold its mini- constitution.

The oath was previously only required of lawmakers and government officials such as the chief executive.

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