Under Beijing's Watch, Hong Kong Passes Bill That Kills Democracy

Hong Kong has passed landmark legislation that will effectively lead to the end of democracy in the hitherto self-ruled city. The city's legislature passed on Thursday the electoral reform that China proposed in March. The controversial legislation will effectively raise the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers in the legislature.

The crux of the bill is that it will allow the state to carry out background checks on candidates running for public office. China says this is to find out if the candidates are "patriotic," but the law allows for the screening the line-up to avoid pro-democracy candidates, according to critics.

Hong Kong protest
Twitter Screen Grab/Ezra Cheung

Number of Seats in Legislature Rises

Under the terms of the new law, number of lawmakers elected directly by Hong Kong people will be reduced to 20 from 35 previously. It also stipulates that the number of seats in the legislature will be raised to 90. Out of this, 40 members will be elected by a pro-Beijing election committee.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is pro-China, lauded the bill. The passage of the bill means that "patriots administering Hong Kong in accordance with one country, two systems," she said. "Together, we have ushered in a new era for Hong Kong's political system that will ensure the full and accurate implementation of 'one country, two systems'," Lam added.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam IANS

Heavy Blow for Democracy

However, observers said the the law is a heavy blow to the aspirations of the Hong Kong people. "Until recently, there were political campaigns that different kinds of candidates could run, and legislative sessions in which there was spirited debate between opposing sides ... Recent moves inside Hong Kong and now in Beijing have been designed to minimize the space for that sort of political activity," said Jeff Wasserstrom, a historian of modern China at the University of California in Irvine, according to the DW.

The landmark bill, which will permanently change the political makeup of the territory, was passed in the legislature with little resistance. The law was passed by a 40-2 vote by the mostly pro-Beijing legislators. This happened as the pro-democracy lawmakers had resigned last year at the height of the pro-democracy protests.

"We are disappointed with the way that the government is changing the electoral system, because we can see that the representation of the people from Hong Kong in the Legislative Council or in the institution as a whole is much less than before, so this is not something which is good for Hong Kong," said Lo Kin-hei, the leader of of Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy party.

US Criticizes China

The US criticized the Chinese move in strong words. "The Chinese government continues to dismantle the democratic institutions of Hong Kong, including the Legislative Council. We stand with the people of Hong Kong, whose will the People's Republic of China is attempting to subvert," tweeted Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.