The Legislative Council of Hong Kong approved, on Thursday (27), a set of laws that configure the biggest reform of its political system since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, and represents a categorical step of the Beijing’s influence on the semi-autonomous city.
The changes include reducing the proportion of seats in the legislature that are filled by direct elections – the total number of seats on the Council will increase from 70 to 90, and the seats filled by direct vote will decrease from 35 to 20. That is, if before half of the seats was occupied by politicians elected by the citizens of Hong Kong, now that number will be less than a quarter of the Council.
And even these 20 places cannot be fought in a democratic way. That’s because another change approved on Thursday creates a new body that will be empowered to examine aspiring Council members and prevent the candidacy of those deemed “insufficiently patriotic” towards China – in practice, anyone who is not fully aligned with Beijing can. be prevented from competing.
“These nearly 600 pages of legislation come down to just a few words: patriots ruling Hong Kong,” said Peter Shiu, a member of the allied council of the Xi Jinping regime, after approval. The phrase echoes a kind of slogan coined in 1984 by the then leader Deng Xiaoping and repeated in 2020 by the powerful current occupying Chinese leader.
Most of the changes had been announced by Beijing in March, during the presentation of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work plan to the National People’s Congress, which, together with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Communist Party , makes up the triad that forms the State of China.
Hong Kong lawmakers, however, added some contributions, such as redrawing voter boundaries and criminalizing any campaigns to leave voting ballots blank – yet another way to curtail free political expression in a scenario already not very democratic.
The approval of the new laws can also be interpreted as a harbinger of the votes in the Legislative Council under the new configuration: the projects were approved with 40 votes in favor and only two against.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers are no longer opposed to the House since, in November last year, Honduran authorities expelled four members defending the territory’s independence from the central regime because they felt their pledges of loyalty to Hong Kong were not sincere. In protest, the entire post-democracy bloc announced a collective resignation.
For the Chinese authorities, the electoral turn is aimed at getting rid of the “loopholes and deficiencies” that, from Beijing’s perspective, threatened national security during the wave of demonstrations that took crowds to the streets in 2019.
The new verification committee with powers to disqualify candidates will be formed by an election scheduled to take place on September 19. The election to the legislature, which was scheduled for September 2020 and has been postponed to this year with the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext, should take place in December. In March 2022, the committee will also choose a chief executive for Hong Kong. The current holder, Carrie Lam, has not made it clear whether she will seek re-election.
Last month, Lam said that the high degree of autonomy that Hong Kong enjoyed under the “one country, two systems” principle was not “comprehensive and absolute”, adding that the city must respect the laws of Beijing and the Communist Party Chinese, which turns 100 in July.
At the time, the governor referred to the ban on traditional annual vigils in honor of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the Chinese dictatorship repressed students calling for more democracy in Beijing on June 4, 1989. For the second year In a row, the Hong Kong police – the only place in China where, in theory, vigils reminiscent of the massacre were still allowed – banned the acts, citing risk of contamination by coronavirus.
China never provided a full account of the violence in 1989. Officially, the regime recognizes the deaths of 300 people, mostly soldiers, but human rights groups and witnesses estimate the number of victims in the thousands. The theme is taboo in Chinese society, so that in mainland China, any act in memory of the dead or in support of the demand of students at the time, still current today, is repressed by the authorities.
In 2019, the vigil for the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square took place in an already very tense political context in Hong Kong. A week later, the biggest movement of protests against Beijing began, with almost daily demonstrations in which the violence of the security forces drew the attention of the international community to the excesses of the communist dictatorship.
Last year, the act came a week after the Chinese Congress passed the new national security law for Hong Kong, which would be enacted the following month. The legislation allows the repression of four types of crime against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with sentences that can lead to life imprisonment.
This year, the vigil was banned again due to Covid, although the health crisis in Hong Kong is under control – the city of 7.5 million people has a moving average of just one confirmed case per day. This Thursday, for the first time in seven months, the number of new infections was zero.