Hong Kong lawmakers will start discussing Beijing’s coming overhaul of the city’s electoral system even before China’s top legislative body unveils the final details of its plan.
The Legislative Council’s House Committee, which scrutinises bills and legislation, on Friday afternoon adopted a suggestion by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to fast-track the local legislative work to pave the way for the Beijing-decreed shake-up.
A subcommittee will be set up to immediately start discussing Beijing’s plan, including a resolution endorsed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) last Thursday.
The subcommittee will subsequently become a bills committee once the Hong Kong government introduces the legislation to Legco.
The NPC resolution, seen by critics as a move to decimate the city’s opposition, was approved to ensure “patriots” ran Hong Kong.
Under the changes, the membership of the Election Committee, which chooses the city’s chief executive and has long been dominated by pro-establishment forces, will be increased to 1,500 by adding 300 Beijing loyalists.
The committee will also be empowered to nominate lawmakers and send some of its own representatives to Legco, which will be expanded to 90 seats from the current 70.
Details such as the ratio of Legco members from geographical constituencies, functional constituencies – most of which are trade-based interest groups – and the Election Committee are still pending the decision of the NPC Standing Committee, the top legislative body.
After concluding three days of consultative sessions with more than 1,000 people in the city on Wednesday, senior Beijing official Zhang Xiaoming said the Election Committee should take up the biggest share of Legco seats.
Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the standing committee, Tam Yiu-chung, said on Friday the top body could meet again as early as next week to discuss the details.
Under Beijing’s resolution, a vetting committee will be set up to review the candidacies of those running for Legco, the Election Committee and chief executive. Tam said he noticed some people had suggested the members of the vetting committee should be appointed by Beijing. He described the suggestion as “reasonable”.
Tam previously said the vetting committee’s decision should not be subject to judicial review, as it could cause elections to be postponed.
He doubled down on his call on Friday, suggesting elections would not be affected if candidates filed a court petition after the polls.
Tam also hoped the standing committee’s decision would be as detailed as possible to make the local legislative work easier.
Lam, meanwhile, in a letter to Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, said: “The [local legislation] is pressed for time, the SAR government will make a full-out effort, however, the support and coordination from the Legislative Council are also indispensable.”
She had suggested on Wednesday that the subcommittee be set up. She said the legislative process had to be accelerated as three polls – for Legco, Election Committee and leader – would be held in the coming 12 months.
While most legislators at Friday’s meeting welcomed the proposal, it was opposed by Cheng Chung-tai, a localist lawmaker who did not join the opposition camp’s mass resignation last November.
“Although there is precedence in the past … this amendment on local legislation involves 7 million people in our society. It is a serious matter and carries a huge impact,” Cheng said.
“Even though I can see the urgency, I think that it is too casual to discuss it at this early stage when the concrete details have not yet been laid out.”