Hong Kong electoral reform plan submitted for review at Standing Committee of the top legislature
HK electoral reform details under review, ‘to be passed on Tuesday’
Published: Mar 29, 2021 06:07 PM
Hong Kong File photo

Hong Kong File photo

Standing Committee of China's top legislative body was scheduled to discuss details of the Hong Kong electoral reform on Monday to Tuesday, and the final full version of the overhaul is expected to be unveiled on Tuesday after the top authorities listened to opinions from Hong Kong society, the Global Times learned from people familiar with the matter.    

Chinese lawmakers were scheduled to review the Hong Kong electoral reform legislation, including the amendment to Annex I and II of the Basic Law, which stipulates the election method of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) chief executive and the formation method of the Legislative Council (LegCo). The highly expected overhaul of the Hong Kong electoral system was seen as a necessary and urgent matter, especially after months-long social unrest in the city in 2019 that exposed the deep-seated institutional loopholes, putting national interests and security at risk. 

During this year's two sessions at the beginning of the March, a draft decision to improve the electoral system of Hong Kong was submitted to the country's top legislature, which clarified a series of targets for the electoral system overhaul, indicating the major principles to be followed during the reform process. The goal of the overhaul is to make sure that the bodies of power in Hong Kong are run by genuine patriots. The decision was voted overwhelmingly on March 11 at the closing of the two sessions, and full details of the overhaul is to be set and unveiled by the end of March.

Overwhelming support 

The Hong Kong electoral reform is based on mass public support of local residents, as a recent survey conducted by local research institution Zijing showed among 1,366 residents randomly asked from March 22 to Saturday, about 70 percent of them said they support the decision to improve the Hong Kong electoral system, saying that implementing the decision is in line with the public expectation. 

As of March 21, over 2.39 million petitions were signed by Hong Kong residents, led by HKSAR government officials, LegCo members, and heads of social organizations, since the adoption of the decision, according to media reports. 

The draft law could be passed with only one reading if there's high consensus on the matter, Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beihang University's law faculty, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), told the Global Times on Monday that the lawmakers were expected to  deliberate on the draft, and discuss it with the NPC Constitution and Law Committee on Monday night. "If everything goes well, the draft overhaul would be passed on Tuesday," Tam said. 

It means the amendment to Annex I and II of the Basic Law would be finalized and adopted by the top legislature of China, paving the way for local law amendments in Hong Kong in the coming months, observers said.

Ahead of the ongoing session of the NPC Standing Committee this week, 66 seminars have been held by the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and the liaison office of the central government in Hong Kong in mid-March, laying out detailed suggestions for the overhaul and absorbing different ideas from Hong Kong society. 

"I think most of the content of the overhaul has been settled," Tam said. 

The Global Times had reported that the detailed measures for Hong Kong electoral reform may come out in late March, given the urgency and complexity of the next step of local law amendment in Hong Kong, and local authorities are expected to finalize the local law amendments by the end of May as there are three major local elections within 12 months.

Besides Tam, four other lawmakers from Hong Kong attended the ongoing session of the NPC Standing Committee, including Maria Tam Wai-chu, vice head of the Basic Law Committee, NPC deputy Ma Fung-kwok, Basic Law Committee member Wong Yuk-shan and Lo Sui-on, according to media reports. 

Details in focus 

The draft decision approved by the country's top legislature earlier included detailed measures for the overhaul, such as enhancing the functions and roles of the Election Committee for electing Legislative Council (LegCo) lawmakers and the region's chief executive, expanding the scope of candidates to make local elections more representative, as well as setting up a high-level vetting committee to ensure candidates meet the principle of "patriots governing Hong Kong." 

While detailed measures are expected to be unveiled on Tuesday, some observers close to the matter gave some hints about those measures. For example, the power of the vetting committee to screen the candidacy can't be appealed by local laws in Hong Kong, and the national security commission may get involved. 

Candidates must go through the vetting committee, which could be composed of less than 10 people with odd staff figures. When disputes arise, the decision can be made with a majority consensus, Lau Siu-kai, the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"The decision of the committee can't be appealed legally or go through judicial review. The police and the central government's office for safeguarding national security in Hong Kong could provide more assistance in background checks," he said. 

Some Hong Kong media outlets also pointed out that the percentage of the seats in LegCo held by different groups would be clarified in the full version of the overhaul released on Tuesday, including 40 seats elected from the Election Committee, 30 from functional constituencies and 20 directly elected, with the number of seats increased from 70 to 90. 

The HKSAR government welcomes the timetable for amending relevant laws concerning the Hong Kong electoral reform, and local authorities will work day and night to advance local law amendments involving over 20 main texts and auxiliaries, the chief executive of the HKSAR government Carrie Lam said at a recent press conference. And Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng told local media in Hong Kong before that once Annex I and II of the Basic Law are amended, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau of HKSAR government will come up with relevant measures while the Secretary for Justice to draft the relevant amendments of the local law. 

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