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China’s Legislature Approves Changes to Hong Kong’s Electoral System, US and UK Criticise the Move

In a biggest shake up to Hong Kong’s political system since 1997, China’s legislature has approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system in the recently concluded “two sessions” of legislatures.

As confirmed by the official Xinhua news agency of China, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) approved resolution to make members of the NPC and the Chinese People‘s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will be part of the Election Committee selecting the city’s leader next year. This is seen as the move to further quash the democratic voices in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. The United States and other western countries have criticised this move.

“New limits on political participation and democratic representation decimate democratic institutions in HK and run counter to PRC international commitments. We stand with allies and partners speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong. #StandWithHongKong,” tweeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in a statement said, “This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself.”

Hong Kong was a British Overseas Territory until 1997 when the United Kingdom (UK) transferred its sovereignty to China.

The NPC has approved changes to the “Basic Law” which acts as the mini constitution of Hong Kong. Among slew of changes, the NPC has also approved an additional sector with 300 members to the Election Committee of Hong Kong which elects the city’s Chief Executive. Presently, the Election Committee comprises members from four sectors – business, professional, social and political with 300 members each.

The seats in the Legislative Council (Legco) of Hong Kong will be increased from 70 to 90. Legco will be elected through the committee, functional constituencies and through direct elections.

A vetting committee will also be established to review potential candidates for the committee and Legco. This might bar the opposition candidates, who aren’t deemed as patriotic, to be elected. 

NPC vice-chairman Wang Chen on March 5 had resolved to establish “a democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics.” He also said that the HKSAR electoral system will be improved to ensure the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with “patriots” as the main body.

The anti-government protests had rocked Hong Kong in 2019. The protests turned so violent that the Legoco building was also ransacked by protestors.
The annual sessions of National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) are called “two sessions” (lianghui). These sessions are similar to the sessions of parliament in India. The NPC and CPPCC hold parallel sessions each year to discuss the important issues. Even though the NPC is termed as a “rubber stamp” since outcomes of important resolutions are pre decided by China’s Comkunjst Party (CCP), the sessions hold a great importance in China’s political calendar. This year, the sessions commenced on March 4 and ended on March 11.