New changes cut proportion of directly elected seats in legislature from half to less than a quarter, while a new body will vet candidates and bar those deemed insufficiently patriotic towards Beijing from participating.

Pro-China lawmakers attend the second meeting of
Pro-China lawmakers attend the second meeting of "Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021" at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on May 27, 2021. (AP)

Hong Kong's legislature has 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 law empowers the city’s national security department to check the backgrounds of potential candidates for public office and a sets up a new committee to ensure candidates are “patriotic.”

The number of seats in Hong Kong’s legislature will be expanded to 90, 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.

Most of the changes were announced by China in March, though Hong Kong authorities later contributed further details, such as redrawing constituency boundaries and criminalising calls for ballots to be left blank.

READ MORE: China neuters Hong Kong's opposition with sweeping electoral reforms 

Little opposition

The bill, passed by a 40-2 vote, was met with little opposition, as most of the legislators are largely pro-China. 

"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.

Their anti-China colleagues resigned en masse last year in protest over the ousting of four lawmakers deemed to be insufficiently loyal to Beijing.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers lauded the bill during the debate on Wednesday and Thursday, saying that 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 anti-Beijing lawmakers would at times filibuster or behave disruptively during meetings to stall the passage of bills that they disagreed with.

READ MORE: Hong Kong working on ‘fake news’ laws amid overhauls of media leadership

Electoral shake-up

Chinese authorities have 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.

The new vetting committee empowered to disqualify candidates will work with national security authorities to ensure those standing are loyal to Beijing.

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.

Chief executive Carrie Lam has not made clear whether she will seek re-election. In 2019 she faced the largest and most violent anti-government protests since the handover from British rule in 1997, after proposing a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's delayed legislative elections set for December

Tighter control

Authorities have arrested and charged most of the city’s outspoken anti-China 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.

China's parliament in March endorsed changes to the city’s electoral system, which then led to Hong Kong’s proposals.

They are the latest in a string of moves to ensure people elected to office or serving the city are loyal to Beijing. 

An amendment the legislature approved earlier this month 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.

READ MORE: Five prominent Hong Kong activists sentenced up to 18 months in jail

Source: TRTWorld and agencies