Hong Kong’s political elite began Sunday to select a powerful committee that will choose nearly half of the legislature – and later a new leader – under a new “patriots only” system imposed by Beijing.
The first ballot under the new system, dubbed “the patriots rule Hong Kong,” will take place on Sunday as members of the city’s ruling classes choose an electoral committee of 1,500 seats.
In December, this committee will nominate 40 of the 90 seats in the city’s legislature – 30 will be chosen by special interest groups and only 20 will be directly elected.
In March of next year, he will choose the next Hong Kong leader approved by China.
The financial center was never a democracy – the source of years of protests – but a noisy little opposition was tolerated after the city was transferred in 1997 to authoritarian China.
Huge rallies for democracy exploded two years ago and Beijing responded with a crackdown and a new political system where only those deemed loyal are allowed to stand for election.
Beijing insists that the new political system is more representative and will ensure that “anti-Chinese” elements are not allowed to take office.
Critics say this leaves no room for pro-democracy opposition and turns Hong Kong into a mirror of the authoritarian mainland led by the Communist Party.
“Hong Kong people are completely cut off from electoral operations,” Nathan Law, a prominent democracy leader who fled to Britain last year, told AFP.
“All the election candidates will become puppet shows under the full control of Beijing… with no real competition. “
Ted Hui, a former lawmaker who moved to Australia, said Hong Kong’s political system was now “a game of approval entirely controlled by Beijing.”
“It’s more than a managed democracy. It’s an autocracy that tries to pretend to be civilized, ”Hui told AFP.
In the new system, all who run for public office must be vetted for political loyalty and exempt from being a threat to national security.
In 2016, around 233,000 Hong Kong people were allowed to select the electoral committee.
That number has now been reduced to around 4,800 – the equivalent of 0.6% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people. Police said 6,000 officers would be deployed to ensure there were no protests or disturbances.
The vast majority of seats in Sunday’s vote are a one-horse race, with just 364 contested. The rest will be installed automatically or chosen by special interest groups.
As a result, the committee will be stacked even more than before with reliable pro-Beijing votes, including loyalist lawmakers and members of national bodies as well as representatives from business, professional and religious groups.
Local media reported that those linked to the city’s powerful families of business tycoons would wield less power.
China has promised Hong Kong to retain key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its handover. But Beijing has started to tighten its grip on the city after the 2019 protests.
Chinese leaders were also stung by pro-democracy candidates winning a landslide in the same year in district council elections – the only civil service positions in Hong Kong fully selected by universal suffrage.
In addition to the new political system, China also imposed a sweeping national security law that criminalized much of dissent.
Several opposition figures have been jailed, dozens of pro-democracy groups, including the city’s most popular newspaper, have been closed and tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have left the city. Others have been disqualified for their political views.