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The “earthquake” of electoral reform in China turns Hong Kong politics on its head


HONG KONG (Reuters) – More than a dozen politicians of all walks of life have said that China’s plan to radically reform the electoral system in Hong Kong, which is expected to be unveiled at a parliamentary session in Beijing beginning this week, will turn the region’s political scene upside down.

Pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping overlooking a street in front of the National People’s Congress, in Shanghai, China, March 1, 2021. Reuters / Ali Song

The proposed reform will put more pressure on pro-democracy activists, who are already under crackdown on dissent, and have upset some Beijing loyalists, some of whom may find themselves trapped by an ambitious new crop. Loyal, people said.

“It would be an earthquake that shakes local political interests,” said one person familiar with the impending changes.

The measures will be presented at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the ratified Chinese parliament, which begins Friday, according to media reports.

The plan was referred to last week by senior Chinese official Xia Baolong, who said that Beijing will introduce systemic changes to only allow those he called “patriots” to hold public office in Hong Kong.

In the full text of his remarks published this week by the pro-Beijing magazine Bauhinia, Chia said that Hong Kong’s electoral system should be “tailored” to suit the city’s situation and exclude those who were called non-patriots, some of whom were described as “anti-China agitators” that would bring destruction and terrorism to Medina – In reference to the pro-democracy activists who took to the streets in sometimes violent demonstrations in 2019.

Chia has not announced any details, but the plan is likely to include changes in how the 70-seat Hong Kong legislature is elected, and the formation of the committee that will select the next Hong Kong leader, according to the person briefed on the plan and the locality. Media reports.

Veteran Democrats were quick to condemn the plan.

“It totally destroys any hope for democracy in the future,” said Lee Cheuk Yan, a former pro-democracy member of the Hong Kong legislature. “The whole concept of Xia Baolong is that the Communist Party rules Hong Kong and only those who support the party can have any role.”

He learned of the impending reform last week, in the middle of his trial, along with a group of eight other pro-democracy activists, accused of unlawful assembly related to a protest in August 2019.

“The decision is no longer for the people,” Lee told Reuters at a lunch break from the trial last week. “It is completely one-party rule.”

The prospect of further bending the election process to the satisfaction of China has alarmed some pro-Beijing figures, who believe it could go too far and ultimately harm Hong Kong.

“Don’t go far and kill the patient,” Xiu Sen Por, a pro-Beijing politician and former head of Hong Kong’s Central Policy Unit, told reporters after a briefing with Xia on the matter. Xiu said the opposition camp had already been neutralized under the National Security Act last year, which allowed the government to “smoothly push the policies forward.”

China’s main liaison office in Hong Kong and the China Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it gives priority to implementing the “patriots who govern Hong Kong” and improving the electoral system, and it will continue to hear views on this issue.

Political Mathematics

Electoral reform is the latest political shake-up to hit Hong Kong, the former colony that Britain returned to China in 1997, which maintains some autonomy from Beijing and whose status as a global financial center is built on the basis of the rule of law and impermissible civil liberties. In mainland China.

The atmosphere of the city has changed drastically in the past eighteen months. Mass street protests in 2019 against China’s tightening control prompted Beijing to impose a comprehensive national security law last June, which authorities used to imprison activists and stifle dissent.

On Sunday, Hong Kong police charged 47 pro-democracy activists and activists with conspiring to sabotage their role in organizing and participating in informal primaries last July, in the largest crackdown under the new law.

Although such arrests have already marginalized the pro-democracy camp, China has wanted to exert greater control over the voting process largely unchanged since 1997, and it remains fearful that the Democrats will win a majority in the legislature in the upcoming elections, he said. The person who viewed the information. Electoral reform plan.

The person said, “They did the math math and were seen as very risky if they did nothing.”

Two senior pro-Beijing politicians told Reuters that the election reform plan, which comes on top of a broader campaign that has already drawn international criticism, will ultimately harm Hong Kong, and possibly destroy its uniqueness, plurality and attractiveness to investors.

On the electoral reform, one politician said, “It’s really sad that Hong Kong has gone down to this point.” “We are handing over Hong Kong to the next generation in a worse condition than we inherited.”

The two pro-Beijing politicians spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. It is rare for pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong to express any doubt about China’s actions, even anonymously.

“There is nothing normal anymore,” said the second pro-Beijing politician. “It’s a new, unnatural thing.”

One faction that appears ready to benefit from electoral reform is the New Bauhinia Party, formed in May by Charles Wong and two other mainland-born businessmen loyal to Beijing, and pushing for policies that Wong says will help revive and lead Hong Kong.

“They (Beijing) have no opposition to what we’re doing,” Wong told Reuters in his office on the 12th floor on the waterfront last week.

Wong, 56, was born in mainland China but came to Hong Kong at a young age and speaks fluent Cantonese, the local dialect. Wong, who describes himself as a “patriot,” embodies China’s stated desire for Hong Kong to be run at all levels by people with closer ties and sympathy to the mainland.

“We are Hong Kong people,” he told Reuters. “We love Hong Kong.”

(Coverage by James Pomfret and Claire Jim in Hong Kong: Additional coverage by Sharon Tam in Hong Kong: Editing by Bill Rigby and Neil Fulllick


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