This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. Part 2: Election Rules Changed, Council Turned into Rubber Stamp（一周政情（下）：選舉改規則 議會變橡皮圖章）
In the past week, two political news items attracted the most attention. One is that the Department of Justice formally prosecuted 47 people for organising or participating in the pan-democratic primaries. The bail hearing took several days, with some of the defendants fainting sent to hospital. 15 were granted bail, but with DOJ's immediate appeal, only 4 were bailed at last. Secondly, the Two Sessions are convened in Beijing. The NPC agenda includes amending the electoral arrangements in the Annexes to the Hong Kong Basic Law in order to fully implement Beijing's demand for "patriots administering Hong Kong".
Amending the electoral system
The opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) was held in Beijing on 5 March. NPC Deputy Secretary-general Wang Chen spoke on the "Draft Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region". He said that the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and forming the Legislative Council of Hong Kong should be amended, and that Annexes I and II to the Basic Law would be amended.
Wang Chen said there is a need to eliminate the "hidden dangers and risks" of Hong Kong's institution and mechanism to ensure "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" with patriots as the mainstay. He said that the Chief Executive would continue to be elected by the Election Committee, but the size, composition and method of formation of the Election Committee should be adjusted to give the Election Committee the new functions of electing a larger proportion of Legislative Council members, direct participation and nominating all Legislative Council candidates.
Wang Chen said that in recent years, especially since the "anti-ELAB" controversy in Hong Kong in 2019, "anti-China" forces and local radical separatist forces advocating "Hong Kong independence" have been engaged in "anti-China" activities through the SAR election platform, the Legislative Council and District Council platforms or as public officials, paralyzing the operation of the Legislative Council, obstructing the administration of the SAR government in accordance with the law, planning and implementing the so-called pre-election, in an attempt to take control of the Legislative Council through the election and seize the right to govern Hong Kong.
He also said that some foreign forces had imposed so-called "sanctions" on the Central Government through legislative and executive means, as well as some consular offices and non-governmental organisations in Hong Kong, blatantly providing protection for the "anti-China elements who mess around in Hong Kong". He said that the chaos in Hong Kong shows that there are obvious loopholes and flaws in the existing election mechanism, which has become an opportunity for the "anti-China elements who mess around in Hong Kong" to seize the right to govern the Hong Kong SAR. Thus, necessary measures have to be taken to "improve" the electoral system in Hong Kong.
According to some Hong Kong media reports, the Bill proposes to increase the number of seats in the Chief Executive Election Committee from 1200 to 1500. The Election Committee will have one new sector, which will be composed of CPPCC and patriotic leaders. At the same time, the composition of the Legislative Council election will be expanded from the current 70 seats to 90 seats, and the five District Councils (II) seats, commonly known as "super District Council seats", will be abolished, with 25 new seats to be elected by the Election Committee. In addition, there are media reports that the Legislative Council election, which was postponed due to the new epidemic, will be postponed again to September 2022. Former Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung pointed out that it was not enough to rely on the Returning Officer to vet candidates for their support of the Basic Law before they stood for election, and that a higher level of vetting mechanism was needed, with continuous scrutiny of their words and deeds after they were elected.
The details of the reformed system as reported by the media have yet to be verified by the development of the situation, but the general direction is quite clear, and the key points are analysed as follows.
(1) The increase in the number of members in the CE Election Committee from 1200 to 1500 means that Beijing is worried that the current composition of 1200 members is at risk of going out of control, and even if it does not go out of control, Beijing's preferred CE will not be elected with a high number of votes. If the number of members of the CE Election Committee is increased to 1,500, and the 300 new members are all so-called patriots handpicked by Beijing, coupled with the elimination or reduction of elements in the original sectors that are less conducive to Beijing's manipulation, such as the District Council seats, the introduction of eligibility tests for Election Committee members, the prevention of dissidents from joining the Election Committee, and the tightening of the nomination mechanism to prevent the recurrence of incidents like John Tsang's unauthorised candidacy which threatened Carrie Lam. By then, the whole process of the selection of the Chief Executive will be completely controlled by Beijing, similar to the composition and operation of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Moreover, the 300 new seats can be used to nurture new patriotic political groups, such as political parties formed by elites from the Mainland who have returned from their studies in the US, or new Hong Kong people who have migrated to Hong Kong in recent years, because most of the so-called patriots among the original 1,200 are "old batteries" who have outlived their usefulness and were nurtured by one or two previous leaders or the result of previous united front work. There are even a popular scholar in the Mainland who mock the traditional patriots of Hong Kong as loyal rubbish. The future 1,500-member Chief Executive Election Committee is a mechanism for creating "new batteries". It is worth noting that many leading figures in the establishment, including political party leaders and members of the Executive Council, have revealed to the media that they were not consulted beforehand on this NPC reform, and that the approach is different from the past, reflecting Beijing's distrust of the traditional pro-Beijing camp and its intention to cultivate new patriotic forces.
(2) A more symbolic change in the incubation of the Legislative Council electoral system is the abolition of the super District Council seats and the return to the practice of the Election Committee for the election of Legislative Councillors. This is a clear abandonment of the progress of the political reform made by the previous leaders, which has caused the democratic representation of the Legislative Council to regress to the pre-handover era, when only a small number of seats in the Legislative Council were returned by direct elections in the districts and most of them were indirectly elected by functional constituencies and the Election Committee. If such a change were to become a reality, it would mean that Beijing has completely abandoned its goal of gradually developing a democratic political system and increasing the number of directly elected seats in the legislature until universal suffrage is achieved in order to control the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. Beijing does not mind at all if the future Legislative Council is seen as a rubber stamp by the outside world.
In this new LegCo election, it is uncertain whether the pan-democrats who have not been arrested and charged will still be willing to run in the election and accompany the pro-establishment camp to whitewash the situation. If someone runs in the election, he or she will have to undergo strict political vetting before and after the election, and there will be no more room for filibustering after entering the legislature. The future LegCo elections and LegCo politics will mainly be a battle for positions and power between different factions of the pro-Beijing camp and the old and new batteries.