China has sharply reduced the number of directly elected seats to the Hong Kong legislature in a setback for the democratic movement. The changes were announced Tuesday after a two-day meeting of China’s top legislature.
In the new composition, the legislature will be enlarged to 90 seats, and only 20 will be elected by the public. Currently, 35 seats, or half of the 70 seats in the legislature, are elected.
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China’s top legislature on Tuesday approved amendments to Hong Kong’s constitution that will give Beijing more control over the makeup of the city’s legislature.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted the amendments on the last day of a two-day session, state news agency Xinhua said.
He did not immediately provide details of changes to Schedules I and II of the Basic Law, which has governed Hong Kong since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Chinese officials have said the committee that selects the Hong Kong leader would have the additional power to choose “a fairly large proportion” of the legislature.
They did not say how many seats that would represent. The Legislative Council, as it is called the body, will increase from 70 to 90 seats.
The changes are expected to reduce the proportion of directly elected members. Currently, half of the legislature is chosen in direct elections.
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The Elections Committee will also grow from 1,200 to 1,500 members.
In early March, the entire National People’s Congress approved a proposal that authorized the Standing Committee to amend the Basic Law. The next step is for Hong Kong to revise its electoral laws and hold an election under them.
As part of the changes, a committee will also be created to review the qualifications of applicants for a post in Hong Kong to ensure that the city is ruled by “patriots”, in the language of the central government.
The political opposition in Hong Kong – which has called for more democracy, not less – sees the changes as part of a larger effort to prevent them from leaving office.
Part of it boils down to the definition of patriots. The opposition tried to block the legislation by obstructing a key legislative committee for months and disrupting legislative procedures.
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Beijing, which prioritizes political stability, sees these actions as unduly interfering with the Hong Kong government and wants to keep these actors out of government.