An amendment bill that would drastically reduce the public’s ability to vote for lawmakers and increase the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city has passed its second reading in the city’s legislature on Thursday.
The bill’s second reading was passed by a 40-2 vote, with all pro-establishment lawmakers voting for the motion, while medical-sector lawmaker Pierre Chan Pui-yin and Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai voted against the motion.
Legco chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen did not cast his vote.
The bill is now subject to a third reading, which is expected to also take place today.
Once approved, the amendments mean the city’s national security department will check the backgrounds of potential candidates for public office and a new committee will be set up to ensure those candidates are patriotic.
The number of seats in Hong Kong’s legislature will be expanded to 90, with 40 of them elected by a largely pro-Beijing election committee. The number of legislators elected directly by Hong Kong voters will be cut to 20, from the previous 35.
Debate is scheduled before the legislature votes on the third reading for the bill, but little to no opposition is expected, given the body’s members are largely pro-Beijing after opposition lawmakers resigned en masse last year in protest over the ousting of four deemed to be insufficiently loyal to Beijing.
The changes to Hong Kong’s elections come as Beijing further tightens control over the semi-autonomous city that saw months of anti-government protest and political strife in 2019.
Authorities have arrested and charged most of the city’s outspoken pro-democracy advocates, such as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who was a student leader of the 2014 protests, as well as media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who founded the Apple Daily newspaper.
China’s National People’s Congress in March endorsed changes to the city’s electoral system, which then led to Hong Kong’s proposals.
They are the latest in a string of moves to ensure people elected to office or serving the city are loyal to Beijing. An amendment the legislature approved earlier this month requiring the city’s over 400 district councilors — who mainly deal with municipal matters — to take an oath pledging their loyalty to Hong Kong and to upholding its mini-constitution.
The oath was previously required only of legislators and government officials such as the chief executive.- Reporting by AP, additional reporting by Hong Kong United Times.