A powerful election committee that will choose Hong Kong’s next leader and 40 lawmakers now contains only ‘patriots’ following a weekend vote, according to the Hong Kong government.
Sunday’s poll involved an electorate of just 4,380 voters who returned 364 members of the newly expanded committee, marking the “full implementation of the principle of patriots administering Hong Kong,” the government said in a statement on Monday.
The poll was held following changes imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that set the city’s political life back by decades, to the pre-reform colonial era in the mid-20th century, according to political analysts.
Veteran pro-democracy activist Alexandra Wong staged a one-woman protest outside a polling station in Wanchai on Sunday, wearing a mask emblazoned with the flag of British colonial-era Hong Kong.
She told reporters that she is a resident of Hong Kong, but unable to cast a vote in Sunday’s election. She said she was turned away at the door, before being asked to leave by security personnel.
The rule changes mean that opposition candidates are highly unlikely to be allowed to run, but even when candidates make it into the race, they will now be chosen by a tiny number of voters compared with the previous system.
The expanded Election Committee, which was previously mostly composed of members handpicked by the CCP, now also includes representatives of 28 industry and professional groups known as “functional constituencies,” although the voter base for these seats has been slashed by an estimated 97 percent.
The number of registered voters in the constituencies that get to choose a member of the Election Committee has fallen by 90 percent since the last election, when the Committee only picked the chief executive.
Since the rule changes imposed by the CCP, the Committee has also been tasked with returning 40 members to the Legislative Council (LegCo).
In the education functional constituency alone, the number of registered voters is listed as just 1,700, compared with 80,000 in the previous session of the Committee.
No opposition allowed
Ivan Choy, senior politics lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said it is clear that Beijing no longer seems to want any opposition candidates to run for election in Hong Kong.
“The message is pretty clear: they are extremely reluctant to allow any [pro-democracy candidates] in at all,” Choy told RFA.
“Beijing isn’t keen for anyone from the pro-democracy faction to run in elections now,” he said. “It actually doesn’t care if all of the candidates are the same.”
The new electoral rules took effect on March 31, 2021, and prompted the U.S. State Department to say it was “deeply concerned” at the changes.
The comprehensive plans ensure that anyone standing for election to Hong Kong’s legislature is a staunch CCP supporter, with all candidates to be vetted by the national security police before being allowed to stand.
The new system forces election hopefuls to run a multi-layered gauntlet of pro-CCP committees before they can appear on any ballot paper.
However, the decisions of all of those committees will hinge on approval by the national security branch of the Hong Kong Police Force, according to details published by the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee.
There will be no right of appeal to decisions of a government-appointed Candidate Eligibility Review Committee (CERC), which includes former police chief and secretary for security Chris Tang, or opinions issued by the national security police regarding the eligibility of election candidates.
District councilors, the last hope of any pro-democracy representation in the city, have also been removed from the Election Committee that chooses who will fill 40 of the 90 seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo) and which also chooses the chief executive.
Elections pushed back to December
Elections to LegCo, which were previously scheduled for September 2020 and then postponed by a year, have now been pushed back to December 2021.
While 20 seats in a newly expanded 90-seat LegCo will still be returned by geographical constituencies and popular ballot, voters may only choose from among candidates pre-approved by the multi-layered vetting process, ensuring that pro-democracy politicians and rights campaigners are unlikely to make the cut.
The remaining seats will be appointed, or returned by trade, industry, and special interest groups. As with the geographical seats, all candidates must be pre-approved by national security police.
The authorities are also required to take action against anyone seeking to “undermine” the electoral system.
The State Department said in its human rights report for 2020 that the CCP has effectively “dismantled” Hong Kong’s promised rights and freedoms and “severely undermined” the rights and freedoms of the city’s seven million people.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.