China has passed sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral rules which will tighten its control over the city.
The number of directly elected seats in parliament has been cut almost by half, and prospective MPs will first be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee to ensure their loyalty to the mainland.
The aim is to ensure only “patriotic” figures can run for positions of power.
Critics warn it will mean the end of democracy, fearing it will remove all opposition from the city parliament.
But Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said there is not a “one-size-fits-all” way of doing democracy, adding the vetting committee will not screen people out based on their political views, but rather weed out any “non-patriots”.
Mrs Lam said as long as the candidates can show allegiance to Hong Kong, uphold the Basic Law and pass national security checks, they will be permitted to run for election.
“For people who hold different political beliefs, who are more inclined towards more democracy, or who are more conservative, who belong to the left or belong to the right, as long as they meet this very fundamental and basic requirement, I don’t see why they could not run for election,” she said on Tuesday.
The first vote under the changes, which will elect members to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), will be held in December.
Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament first approved the plan during the National People’s Congress (NPC) meetings earlier in March.
On Tuesday, Chinese state media reported that the country’s top decision-making body, the NPC Standing Committee, voted unanimously to pass it. This amends the annexes of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Opposition figures say the changes are designed to keep anyone who is not aligned with Beijing’s rule out of parliament.
“This whole new system is really degrading and very oppressive,” Emily Lau, a pro-democracy former lawmaker told AFP, adding that she thought political unrest could explode on Hong Kong’s streets again.
“If you have so many people who are very unhappy inside, all you need is a little trigger and that would spark a lot of people.”
“Giving a police force the power to oversee who can stand for elections is not seen in systems usually deemed democratic in a meaningful sense,” said Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of politics at the National University of Singapore.