Hong Kong’s pro-establishment legislators will need to prove their worth in the remainder of their term if they are keen to seek re-election, as Beijing is determined to get more new, patriotic faces into the Legislative Council in the December 19 polls, according to analysts.
But some pro-establishment legislators warned that it was also important to make sure the legislature, which will be expanded from 70 to 90 seats under Beijing-imposed electoral changes, was filled with experienced members, so Legco was effective in helping with the city’s governance and monitoring the administration at the same time.
“There needs to be at least 30 re-elected lawmakers in the 90-strong legislature, and the others can be newbies,” veteran legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun said on Wednesday.
The lawmakers were speaking a day after an umbrella bill consolidating more than 700 pages of amendments to existing ordinances and subsidiary legislation was gazetted to flesh out details of the broad outlines of changes set by the country’s top legislative body last month, in keeping with the official bottom line that only “patriots” would be allowed to administer Hong Kong following the anti-government protest chaos of 2019.
The bill was tabled by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai in a special Legco meeting on Wednesday, and was expected to be approved by the end of next month.
A source told the Post a bills committee would hold its first four-hour meeting on Saturday to start scrutinising the legislation.
Currently, 35 Legco seats are elected from 29 mostly trade-based functional constituencies, and the other 35 are returned from five geographical constituencies. The pro-establishment camp occupies 17 geographical and 24 functional seats.
Under the new legislation, the number of geographical and functional constituency seats will be reduced to 20 and 30 respectively, with the remaining 40 elected by a newly empowered 1,500-member Election Committee, which will also elect the chief executive on March 27 next year.
Officials argued the changes were to improve the relationship between the legislative and executive branches, but critics said the reduction in geographical constituency seats would make it harder for public and dissident opinion to be reflected in policymaking.
A veteran pro-establishment politician, who wished to remain anonymous, believed that under the new system, his camp could win as many as 10 geographical constituency seats. That meant that up to seven of the 17 current lawmakers would need to consider other routes, such as the Election Committee, if they wanted another term, he said.
“Compared with their colleagues, veteran lawmakers such as Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Paul Tse are more qualified to switch from the geographical constituencies to the Election Committee constituency because they are more experienced,” the insider added.
He believed that as the pro-establishment parties would coordinate among themselves, incumbent legislators should be given priority in seeking re-election in the geographical constituencies, while track record and popularity with voters should be taken into account for those in the functional constituencies.
“Capability counts because Beijing is eager to groom a new generation of able patriots. Legco was to blame for many of Hong Kong’s problems, so if a large proportion of the lawmakers in the next term is more or less the same people, that’s not instilling new blood,” he argued.
Debate also centred on whether the changes would pose a larger challenge to more sizeable pro-establishment parties or their smaller counterparts. While some suggested the smaller parties could be more affected as they would have generally less influence, a legislator from one such group gave a different take.
The lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, argued that bigger parties such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong used to rely on the geographical constituencies to win many of their seats. But after the overhaul, the legislator said, they would only be left with 10 seats, assuming the opposition would still participate in the election.
“Then there certainly won’t be enough seats for them,” the lawmaker said, suggesting that if anyone were to feel the pressure to consider switching to another route to secure seats, it would be the bigger parties.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, agreed that when Election Committee members picked people to fill 40 seats, they should include some veterans who had proved to be capable in Beijing’s eyes.
But he believed candidates’ track record should be the only consideration during the camp’s internal discussions.
“Beijing will be encouraging some patriots to seek election as lawmakers through the Election Committee’s support,” he said.
“If they have potential, newcomers should also give it a try through geographical constituencies and contest alongside these weakened, moderate opposition figures.”
Percentage of directly-elected seats
Lau dismissed the notion that the legislature’s continuity could be undermined if there were too many new faces. “Beijing expected Legco to be a body that supports and monitors the government’s work … and the central government has been very dissatisfied with some pro-establishment lawmakers’ performance since the 2019 social unrest,” he said.
Veteran politician Tse, who has represented Kowloon East since 2012, said both individual merits and the overall image of Legco were important.
“We need to find the right balance. If there are just 10 to 20 old-timers in Legco, the legislature’s continuity could be in doubt,” he said.
Tse added that he had yet to decide whether to seek re-election in his constituency.
Hong Kong Island lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, of the Federation of Trade Unions, believed voters expected the next Legco to be filled with skilled politicians who could carry on with the work done in the current term.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Leung Che-cheung said he would not seek re-election in the geographical constituencies in December.