Hong Kong’s overhauled electoral system does not reflect people’s will

The aim is clear — to completely exclude from politics Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, who are critical of China. Measures that fundamentally destroy democracy by changing the electoral system so that it does not reflect the will of the people cannot be tolerated.

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) has passed a bill to revise Hong Kong’s electoral system in accordance with the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” proclaimed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Election Committee — which is responsible for selecting the chief executive, the top official of the Hong Kong government — will be increased from 1,200 members to 1,500, further expanding the influence of pro-Beijing groups.

The number of seats in the Legislative Council, which is the parliament of Hong Kong, will be increased from 70 to 90. Among the 90 seats, the Election Committee itself will pick 40 representatives. The number of directly elected lawmakers will be reduced from 35 to 20. A new panel will also be set up to screen the qualifications of candidates for the Legislative Council, and their loyalty to the Hong Kong government will be made a requirement for running.

Under these conditions, there is almost no room for pro-democracy candidates to run for election, and the single ballot of an eligible voter has almost no weight. The Legislative Council, like the NPC, will be a supporting organization that just endorses the policies of the authorities.

The national security law, which was introduced last year, is being used to clamp down on dissident activities, and China’s crushing of pro-democracy activists can be said to have entered the final stage.

The parliamentary election has been postponed from September to December so that it can be held under the new electoral system. The Xi administration apparently intends to rebuff criticism from the international community by pushing ahead with the electoral system change.

This revision of the electoral system runs counter to Hong Kong’s Basic Law, or constitution, which states that the ultimate aim is to realize “universal suffrage.” It also goes against the principle of “one country, two systems,” which was guaranteed for 50 years after the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, in the 1984 joint declaration between China and Britain.

It is clear that China’s actions have violated its international commitments. Its counterargument that others are interfering in China’s internal affairs makes no sense.

Hong Kong has built its position as an international financial center based on democracy, freedom and diversity. However, due to Xi’s “patriot” policy, those who do not support the Chinese government or the Communist Party are losing their place.

Applications for special visas, which can lead to citizenship in Britain, are said to be increasing sharply. A U.S. research organization excluded Hong Kong, which had long ranked first, from its index of economic freedom in the world.

Regarding the overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system, the Chinese government said it will help maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. It seems likely it would actually have the opposite effect.

China should be aware that if the loss of democracy leads to an outflow of residents abroad and a decline in its position as a financial center, it will in fact harm the national interest.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 1, 2021.