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Politics

Hong Kong leader rules out public role in electoral overhaul

Carrie Lam signals Legislative Council poll could be postponed second time

"There is a loophole in the electoral system, which could threaten national security and the stability as well as the prosperity of Hong Kong," Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday.   © Reuters

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong people will not be consulted on the territory's upcoming electoral overhaul, which is poised to empower a Beijing-controlled committee to vet candidates for the city's legislature and effectively exclude opposition voices.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said an extensive public consultation, as usually required for major constitutional changes, will not take place ahead of the planned electoral changes due to their "urgency," adding that she is "thankful" for Beijing's effort in "improving" Hong Kong's political system.

"There is a loophole in the electoral system, which could threaten national security and the stability as well as the prosperity of Hong Kong... I understand that Hong Kong does not have its own ability to solve this problem," Lam said. "By returning [legislative power] to people who are patriotic... Hong Kong will have a much brighter future."

Lam also signaled that Legislative Council polls could be postponed a second time due to the need to first complete the electoral overhaul. The vote was originally scheduled for last September but pushed back to this Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lam's remarks came two days after her meeting in Beijing with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, the top official responsible for Hong Kong affairs. Han said that the overhaul of the electoral system will "plug the loophole" in the current model and remove threats to national security and sovereignty.

The resolution on overhauling Hong Kong's election system will be voted on Thursday in Beijing by the National People's Congress (NPC), where it is set to pass without opposition given the Chinese Communist Party's total control of the body. The resolution's draft text has not yet been released.

When Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last year, the full text was made public on the same day the bill took effect.

Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, however, shed some light on the plan last week when announcing the submission of the draft resolution.

Touted as an "improvement to democracy with Hong Kong characteristics," the resolution will empower a Beijing-controlled election committee -- dominated by local pro-China figures -- to nominate legislative candidates and appoint its own members to the legislature after the committee members themselves are selected in the upcoming months.

Emily Lau, a former chairperson of the Democracy Party, the city's largest opposition party, said Hong Kong is "going backwards on democracy" with the imminent changes to its electoral system. "It would erase all progress we have made over the years," she said to public broadcaster RTHK.

Until now, residents in Hong Kong have been free to contest polls on their own. In the last Legislative Council polls in 2016, 40 of 70 seats were filled by public election.

Since then, incumbents and candidates seeking seats in the next council have been disqualified by the government, which ultimately led to the mass resignation of pro-democracy lawmakers last November, leaving the legislature without an opposition for the remainder of its extended term.

According to the Basic Law, the city's constitution, the "ultimate aim" for Hong Kong was to achieve universal suffrage in a "gradual and orderly manner" in accordance with democratic values and processes.

Lam said that Hong Kong people will have a say in the city's democratic development eventually after "deficiencies and loopholes" in the system are fixed, as the Basic Law provisions will remain unchanged.

"The time will come for Hong Kong's political system to move forward in a gradual, orderly manner with a view to achieving that ultimate objective of universal suffrage in the selection of the chief executive," she said.

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce on Monday said it recognized the need for change and supported the opinion of "patriots governing Hong Kong" and that such a concept is aligned with international norms.

The business group "believes that enhancing Hong Kong's electoral system based on current circumstances would reinforce the 'one country, two systems' principle," it said in a statement.

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