Top Hong Kong officials are set to launch a large-scale campaign next week to explain to the city why Beijing is overhauling its electoral system and introducing measures to ensure only patriots can govern locally.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai revealed the publicity drive on Friday during the first meeting of a Legislative Council subcommittee tasked with discussing the central government’s proposed electoral reforms and scrutinising the bills required to deliver them.
“The Hong Kong government welcomes and supports the reforms, and the chief executive has attached a great deal of importance to this,” Tsang told lawmakers.
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“We have planned for a full-scale programme of explanation, and the entire team of principal officials will participate in promoting this. This will be launched soon.”
Under the revamp endorsed by the National People’s Congress earlier this month, the 1,200-strong Election Committee responsible for picking the city’s chief executive will be expanded by 300 members to further reinforce the pro-establishment camp’s dominance within the body.
The committee will also be empowered to nominate all Legco candidates, as well as to elect a “relatively large proportion of members” in the legislature, which is to be expanded from 70 to 90 seats.
The NPC Standing Committee will meet again on Monday and Tuesday to decide the details of the reforms, such as the actual composition of Legco and the Election Committee.
Tsang said Beijing’s overhaul was needed to plug loopholes in the city’s political framework.
“Since the social unrest broke out in 2019, the opposition camp has provoked confrontation with the support of external forces … Hong Kong has been increasingly politicised and radicalised, and our electoral system needs to be changed,” he said.
Since the NPC resolution was approved on March 11, opposition activists, the British and US governments, and the European Union have all accused Beijing of wiping out dissent and opposition voices from Hong Kong politics.
Scholars also warned the reforms would risk rendering elections “meaningless”, and that fewer directly elected lawmakers would make it harder for public opinion to be reflected in the legislature.
Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen backed the reforms but said she wanted to see the government reach out to foreign diplomats and local residents to make sure they understood that Beijing held the power to change Hong Kong’s electoral laws.
“Many residents told me that the reform would bring peace to Hong Kong, but they don’t understand why it’s the NPC, not Legco initiating it,” she said.
“We also need to explain to the diplomats. We must not give up our opportunities to explain to the international community.”
Tsang responded that the promotional campaign would aim to reach different sections of society.
“All ministers need to take part and talk to different sectors and social groups,” he added. “We are also drafting the legislative amendments. The entire political team is doing this together.”
Although target groups have not been specified, the campaign is expected to be directed at business chambers, professional bodies, as well as political and community organisations.
Similar to the promotional campaign for the national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last summer, adverts on the electoral reform are expected to appear at MTR stations and along major city thoroughfares, while ministers will hold meetings with those relevant to their brief.
Roy Tang Yun-kwong, the permanent secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said the government was planning to amend at least four major laws, namely the Chief Executive Election Ordinance, the Legislative Council Ordinance, the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance and the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Some 28 pieces of subsidiary legislation would also need to be changed to align with Beijing’s reforms, he added.
Legco was expected to finish scrutinising the package of legislative amendments by mid-July, so that the Election Committee, Legco and chief executive elections could be held in September, December and March respectively.
Under Beijing’s plan, a powerful new vetting committee will be appointed to ensure those running for chief executive, Legco and the Election Committee itself are patriots and pose no threat to national security.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan raised concerns about whether the government could shield its vetting committee members from foreign sanctions, while localist lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai asked whether the body would need to comply with the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.
Tsang said he would look into Chan’s suggestion. The minister added he believed the committee would need to abide by the city’s laws, including anti-bribery legislation. But he said he could not give more details before the NPC Standing Committee meeting concluded on Tuesday.
In one frosty intervention, pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun tore into the official, questioning if he was fully prepared for the meeting and accusing the government of moving too slowly on a range of issues.
“Mak asked you why Beijing has to initiate this, that’s because amendments to annexes I and II of the Basic Law can only be initiated locally by a two-third majority in Legco, that’s 47 lawmakers,” he said, referring to the pan-democrats’ mass resignation last November which left the legislature with only 43 legislators.
“How could you not get familiar with these crucial principles and just repeatedly tell us that your team will work on this and that? … Can the whole government speed up, and don’t be so slow on everything ranging from reform preparation to pandemic control? The whole city is at stake.”
Tsang replied that the government would do its best to make faster progress in the areas Tse mentioned.
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