By: Erin Albright, Staff Wrtier
The dreams of democracy for Hong Kong activists were crushed on Friday as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) passed legislation to overhaul and control the city’s electoral system.
The rules were enacted at the closing session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, as the restructuring of Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) was overtaken by the CCP.
The new legislation, aimed at establishing Beijing control over the special administrative region, calls for a total revamp of the city’s electoral systems. The Chinese government now demands loyalty from candidates running for office.
One mandate passed says Beijing can block candidates they deem anti-China, or who have openly called for independence for Hong Kong.
Chinese Premier Li Kequiang said at his annual news conference that the new legislation was needed to ensure that “patriots” run the country, causing self-declared moderates to fear they won’t pass Beijing’s strict qualifications.
The new legislation will strengthen and define Beijing’s grip over the territory. It is anticipated that the majority of lawmakers will be picked by government allies, as Beijing has added 300 more spots to the EAC.
The move will likely deprive supporters of democracy a voice when selecting Hong Kong’s leader early next year. The position is typically voted upon by a 1,200-member election committee, which is now being taken over by Beijing and its allies.
Chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei remains one of few prominent opposition figures not in custody. Kin-hei called the changes “a sad move for Hong Kong.”
The changes to the voting system have reversed significant work begun in 1997, when Hong Kong and China gave voters democratic control of their leaders. Now, citizens are subject to the whims of Beijing and the CCP.
Enshrined in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s rough equivalent of the U.S. Constitution, is the promise of citywide elections, as well as a pledge to make universal suffrage the “ultimate aim.”
Hong Kong’s politicians have long described their role as juggling the demands of two powerful figures who are often at odds: CCP leaders in Beijing, and the people of Hong Kong. With the recent upending of elections and new control over democratic movement, politicians will be forced to consider Beijing’s requests more than ever before.
The Chinese government also announced plans to reform a city-mandated high school civics course, known as liberal studies. Pro-Beijing figures have accused the program of radicalizing Hong Kong’s youth.
Many Hong Kong residents opposed to the Chinese electoral changes have been arrested and detained on charges tied to the National Security Law. Those arrested include some of Beijing’s most aggressive critics as well as lesser-known political figures.
The arrests have shown that authorities are willing to punish any participation in pro-democracy activities.
The National Security Law, enacted last June, is the most visible tool of the crackdown, granting Beijing broad powers to limit opposition to the ruling CCP. Protestors can face life imprisonment, and foreigners who support independence for Hong Kong could be prosecuted upon entering Hong Kong or mainland China.
“These actions deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said.
Hong Kong’s next election will be held in January 2022, though the level of citizen participation that will be allowed in it is still unclear.