Germany to vaccinate children over 12 years from June 7

Germany to vaccinate children over 12 years from June 7

Hong Kong's Opposition-devoid legislature has approved Beijing's overhaul of its political system which reduces the number of directly elected seats and will freeze out most of China critics. The changes to Hong Kong’s elections come as Beijing further tightens control over the semi-autonomous city that saw months of anti-government protest and political strife in 2019.

The Hong Kong legislature on Thursday passed a bill amending electoral laws that drastically reduces the public’s ability to vote and increases the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city.

The new changes will ensure a large majority of lawmakers are selected by a reliably pro-Beijing committee and that every candidate must first be vetted by national security officers.

The bill, passed by a 40-2 vote, was met with little opposition, as most of the legislators are largely pro-Beijing. Pro-democracy legislatures had resigned en masse last year in protest over the ousting of four lawmakers deemed to be insufficiently loyal to Beijing.

The move was quickly denounced by the United States, which accused China of undermining Hong Kong's democratic institutions.

What are the new Hong Kong laws?

The number of seats in Hong Kong’s legislature will be expanded to 90 from 70, with 40 of them elected by a largely pro-Beijing election committee. The number of legislators elected directly by Hong Kong voters will be cut to 20, from the previous 35.

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

"These 600-or-so pages of the legislation come down to just a few words: patriots ruling Hong Kong," said Peter Shiu, a pro-Beijing lawmaker.

Chinese authorities said the electoral shake-up is aimed at getting rid of "loopholes and deficiencies" that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and ensure only "patriots" run the city.

Earlier, the legislature approved an amendment that requires the city’s over 400 district councillors — who mainly deal with municipal matters — to take an oath pledging loyalty to Hong Kong and to upholding its mini-constitution. The oath was previously required only of legislators and government officials such as the chief executive.

How do new changes affect Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has never been a democracy, something at the root of years of growing political unrest, but a vocal minority opposition was allowed in the city's legislature. When Hong Kongers can vote they tend to do so overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, something that has rattled authoritarian Beijing

China's leaders moved to stamp out that opposition and dismantle Hong Kong's limited democratic pillars after massive protests broke out in 2019 followed by pro-democracy candidates taking local district council elections with a landslide.

Their first step was to impose a national security law last year that outlawed much dissent.

More than 100 prominent democracy supporters, including opposition lawmakers, have since been arrested under the law. Beijing then turned its attention to the city's political system.

The changes in electoral law are the latest in a string of moves to ensure people elected to office or serving the city are loyal to Beijing.

China had earlier promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing.

Democracy campaigners and Western countries say the political overhaul moves the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has had since the handover.

Since China imposed a national security law in 2020 to criminalise what it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it or arrested for other reasons.

Elections for the election committee are set for September 19, and for the legislature three months later. The committee will choose a chief executive on March 27, 2022.

What are lawmakers saying?

Pro-Beijing lawmakers lauded the bill during the debate on Wednesday and Thursday, saying reforms would prevent those not loyal to Hong Kong from running for office.

Some pointed out that multiple bills that impact people’s livelihoods have been passed with more ease this year compared to in 2020, when pro-democracy lawmakers would at times filibuster or behave disruptively during meetings to stall the passage of bills that they disagreed with.
What about Hong Kong’s pro-democratic supporters?

Lo Kin-hei, chairman of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party, said that the party was “unhappy” with the decision to pass the bill.

“We are disappointed with the way that the government is changing the electoral system because we can see that the representation of the people from Hong Kong in the Legislative Council or in the institution as a whole is much less than before, so this is not something which is good for Hong Kong,” said Lo.

He said his Democratic Party had not yet decided if they would take part in legislative elections in December.

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

US critical of changes in electoral law

US secretary of state Antony Blinken in a statement criticised China and Hong Kong authorities over the election law amendments, saying they kept people in Hong Kong from “meaningfully participating in their own governance and having their voices heard.”

The US secretary of state also called on Hong Kong authorities to drop charges filed against people “merely for standing for election or for expressing dissenting views.”