02/23/2021, 15.13
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Beijing demands Hong Kong electoral reform in latest blow to democracy front

Chinese authorities: The city must be run by "patriots". The risk of disqualification before and after the vote. Carrie Lam: The central government intervened to avoid political chaos. District councillors already targeted. The postponement of the elections is a ploy to prevent the Democrats from winning.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Xia Baolong, who heads the Chinese Office for Macao and Hong Kong Affairs, said yesterday that electoral reform is a priority for Hong Kong and that the city must be administered by "patriots": in what activists see as an attempt to eliminate the democratic opposition.

Xia labelled enemies of the homeland people who "constantly attack the central authorities, invoke the independence of the former British colony, damage the city's international reputation, demand foreign sanctions and violate the law on national security".

According to local observers, Beijing has yet to decide whether or not to keep a small group of democratic lawmakers in the Legco, the city parliament. Based on the draft reforms that are circulating, pro-democracy parties could at best get 20 seats out of 70 at best.

Not only that, analysts note that the authorities could exclude Democratic candidates before the vote. The disqualification could come even after winning the elections: for not wanting to take an oath of loyalty to the executive or for making statements that threaten national security.

Indeed, in January the police arrested 53 democracy figures on charges of trying to secure 35 or more seats in the September elections (which were later postponed) for the anti-government front. They would thus have had the numbers to block the approval of the budget law and force Carrie Lam - head of the executive - to resign. In July, all those arrested had taken part or had contributed to the organization of the democratic party primaries to compete in the imminent renewal of the Legco.

After the ouster of four democratic parliamentarians by Beijing, in November all members of the democratic front in the Legco resigned, leaving the legislative body without any opposition.

Lam sustains that it is right for the central government to intervene to reform the electoral law. She argued today that this will serve to prevent the political situation in the city from deteriorating to the point of threatening the "one country, two systems" formula, the foundation of city autonomy recognized by Beijing. Lam refers to the series of protests that have swept Hong Kong over the past 20 years, including Occupy Central in 2014 and those of the anti-extradition movement that erupted in summer 2019.

Asked whether democratic organizations will be able to participate in future elections, the city leader preferred not to answer. However, she specified that the executive (in short the Chinese government) is developing the criteria for candidates to compete in the vote.

A first sign of this arrived today. Local authorities have said that without an oath of allegiance the district councillors will be removed and will not be able to reapply for five years. In November 2019, after months of protests that led to the withdrawal of the extradition law, the democratic front won the elections for district councils.

In all likelihood, the electoral reform proposal will be presented in March at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, called to formally ratify the decisions already taken by the Chinese Communist Party.

Interviewed by Apple Daily, political scientist Ivan Choy points out that regardless of the details of the new voting modalities, it is clear that the postponement of the elections in September was decided by the executive (and by Beijing) to prevent the Democrats from conquering the majority in the Legco. Lam justified the move with the need to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

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