Draft decision on HK election reform outlines targets, procedures
Revising Annex of the Basic Law shows China’s commitment to “one country, two systems”: NPC deputies
Published: Mar 05, 2021 09:10 PM
Hong Kong File photo

Hong Kong File photo

A detailed draft decision to overhaul the Hong Kong electoral system with the aim of fixing existing loopholes was unveiled on Friday at the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), laying out targets, major procedures and principles for the imminent reforms to effectively implement the political principle of only patriots governing Hong Kong. 

It also outlined major steps to follow in amending the Basic Law-related legislature by performing the constitutional right under "one country, two systems" baseline, redefining the constitutional order of Hong Kong as one of China's special administrative regions (SAR), and hinting on future measures including a scope of public participation expanded and whole-process scrutiny of candidacy in local elections. The country's top legislature also clarified the goals of the amendment: to clear the existing loopholes and deficiencies - the anti-China, destabilizing elements jumped on to take into their hands the power to administer the HKSAR, as seen in the rioting and turbulence that occurred in the Hong Kong society in recent years. 

Also, only amending the Annex of the Basic Law and adopting "decision plus amendment" by leaving the work of local law overhaul to the Hong Kong government also demonstrated China's commitment to "one country, two systems" amid rising anti-China forces in the West claiming that the reforms jeopardize the fundamental policy for Hong Kong. 

During a speech at the opening of the NPC session on Friday morning, Wang Chen, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, urged improvement of the Hong Kong election measures and the scale of the Election Committee, to build a democratic electoral system with Hong Kong characteristics.

The electoral system of the HKSAR, including the methods for the election of the Chief Executive and the formation of the Legislative Council, must strictly follow and fully reflect the political principles and criteria of Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong, with patriots as the main body, and provide institutional safeguards for this purpose, Wang said.

The draft clarified a series of targets for the electoral system overhaul, indicating the major principles to be followed during the reform process, including adjusting and improving the size, composition and formation method of the Election Committee in order to expand the scope of participation, the senior official said. 

And to plug the existing loopholes in the local election system, a whole-process candidacy review mechanism needs to be established. The Election Committee will be entrusted with the new function of electing a relatively large share of LegCo members and directly participating in the nomination of all candidates for the LegCo, he noted. 

The decision to improve Hong Kong's electoral system is a comprehensive and complete reform of Hong Kong's electoral setup and political design, according to some NPC deputies, Hong Kong officials and legal experts. The reform adds the elements of democracy with Hong Kong characteristics and enhances the width and stability of Hong Kong's democracy by enabling the power of governing Hong Kong to be only held in the hands of patriots. This unprecedented political reform is also designed to prevent Hong Kong from descending into political infighting with its democracy and governance downgrading. 

HK LegCo File photo:VCG

HK LegCo File photo:VCG

Role of Election Committee 

China's top legislature's rectification of the Hong Kong electoral system will amend the methods for the election of the Chief Executive of the HKSAR and the formation of the Legislative Council, within which the role of the Election Committee would be further strengthened. 

Ip Kwok-him, an unofficial member of the Executive Council, told the Global Times that the 1,200-member Election Committee will see enlargement in terms of numbers and the fields of members.

Also, 117 district councilors in the 1,200-person Election Committee would be scrapped, as part of the de-politicizing campaign with the district councils, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Election Committee would not only be responsible for electing the Chief Executive but also be involved in selecting LegCo lawmakers. Local media reports in Hong Kong indicated that some "super seats" in LegCo would be scrapped while some seats nominated by the committee would be added. 

Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, a member of LegCo and a non-official member of the Executive Council, told the Global Times on Friday that the reform would also bring major changes to the power of the District Council. 

In order to maintain continuity and stability of relevant systems of the HKSAR, the revisions to be made this time in improving the electoral system may be limited to Annex I and Annex II of the HKSAR Basic Law, without revising its main body, Wang said.

A two-step approach, namely, "decision plus amendment," will be adopted, Wang said, adding that the NPC will make a decision in accordance with relevant laws in the first step. 

In the second step, the NPC Standing Committee will amend Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law in accordance with relevant laws and the NPC decision. Local authorities will amend relevant laws after the overhaul is finished at the national level. 

The main body of the Basic Law could be amended as the power is in the hands of the NPC, but will not be amended under normal conditions because the Basic Law was drafted and passed with a long and complicated process, Gu Minkang, former vice dean of Law of the School of Law at the City University of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Friday. 

"The 'one country, two systems' is embedded in the Basic Law, and the law holds many promises to Hong Kong. Therefore, it requires enormous prudence to amend the main text of the Basic Law," said Gu, adding that amending Annex I and Annex II is relatively easy as there are precedents. 

"Such an arrangement will help maintain the consistency and stability of Hong Kong's system," said Gu.

Tung Chee-hwa (right), a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), talks to Leung Chun-ying (center), also a vice-chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. Photo: cnsphoto

Tung Chee-hwa (right), a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), talks to Leung Chun-ying (center), also a vice-chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. Photo: cnsphoto

Only revising the Annex I and II of the Basic Law without revising the main body of the law also shows that China's top legislature wants to make the changes at "the minimum level" in order to seek the political stability at the maximum, which also underscored its commitment to "one country, two systems," Chan Yung, vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong who is a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, told the Global Times on Friday.

"It shows that 'one country, two systems' remains unshaken," he said, noting that those Western anti-China forces tried to slander it by claiming this fundamental policy has been broken just turned a blind eye to the fact that the policy remains unchanged.  

The way in which the electoral system of Hong Kong will be designed, developed and improved is a matter of China's internal affairs, said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry.

Across the world, a country determines the electoral system of local places, and this is the constitutional system and political practice of all unitary states, he said. 

"China's stance toward Hong Kong has won the understanding and support of most members of the international community," Wang added.

On behalf of 70 countries, a representative of Belarus to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council expressed support to China's implementation of "one country, two systems" in the HKSAR and urged certain countries to stop interfering in China's internal affairs.

Two former Hong Kong chief executives also voiced support for the draft decision. Tung Chee-hwa, the first chief executive of Hong Kong upon Hong Kong's return to China on July 1, 1997, believes Hong Kong is at a critical moment for reforms and the agenda of this year's two sessions is particularly significant for the future of Hong Kong and the country.

Leung Chun-ying, the third chief executive of Hong Kong, said the system of the Election Committee is the core of Hong Kong's electoral system, and the draft decision will reconstruct and empower the Election Committee so it can fulfil its core election functions. 

Hong Kong file photo

Hong Kong file photo

Next steps

Some legal experts told the Global Times in previous interviews that the NPC Standing Committee will handle the matter in the next one or two months and come up with a detailed reform plan.

Then, the HKSAR government will spend several months to rectify a series of election laws before delivering them to be adopted by the LegCo.

The overhaul process would be finalized before the next elections in Hong Kong, which are expected to be the LegCo election scheduled for September. However, it's also possible that the LegCo election will be further deferred until the overhaul is finished, Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, told the Global Times on Friday. 

The LegCo election slated for this fall may be postponed again, as the LegCo election method will see major changes.

Tam said there is no problem with the postponement of LegCo elections, as the NPC previously mentioned that the postponement could last no shorter than a year.

Carrie Lam, chief executive of the HKSAR government, said in a statement on Friday that the local authority fully respects the leading role of the central authorities in overhauling the electoral system of Hong Kong, and agrees on the five basic principles elaborated by Wang.

As there will be several elections in the next 12 months, the work of overhauling election laws is urgent and the HKSAR govt will fully assist the NPC Standing Committee to rectify Annex I and Annex II of the Basic Law, following which the local government can rectify local laws before submitting them to LegCo for approval, she said.

"There was no detailed plan mentioned at today's meeting, but there were some principles to follow, including the principle of patriots governing Hong Kong and giving more opportunities to patriots," Tam said.

Highlight of draft decision on HKSAR electoral overhaul Infographic: GT

Highlight of draft decision on HKSAR electoral overhaul Infographic: GT