HK set for political rewiring as Legco backs changes

The Legislative Council on Thursday completed a series of law changes to enable Beijing’s sweeping overhaul of the way Hong Kong chooses its lawmakers and the chief executive.

The changes, which were approved by Beijing in March, were passed by a margin of 40-2 with no abstentions.

Critics both at home and abroad say the changes will stifle opposition voices, with the introduction of a vetting process involving the police and the government which is designed to block candidates who are not considered to be “patriots”.

The number of seats in Legco will grow from 70 to 90, but at the same time the number of legislators picked by the public will fall from 40 – including the five district council ‘superseats’ – to 20.

The election committee that selects Hong Kong’s top local leader will choose 40 members of the legislature, and there will be 30 seats filled by functional constituencies.

The election committee will also swell, adding another 300 places to 1,500.

Other legal amendments mean it will be a crime for anyone to encourage others to boycott an election or cast blank or spoiled ballots, with offenders risking up to three years in prison.

Legco president Andrew Leung said he believes the changes will lead to a “legislature that returns to rationality”.

“There will continue to be a spectrum of different voices in the legislature to reflect the overall interests of Hong Kong. I call on all aspiring individuals to actively participate in the upcoming elections. I hope that we will all put the well-being of Hong Kong citizens as our first priority,” he said.

Lawmakers supporting the overhaul said the legislature will now be able to focus on improving the economy and people’s livelihoods.

“I do understand there are people who tend to smear or discredit this sort of improvement of our electoral system, but I wish to say, time will prove,” DAB lawmaker Holden Chow said. “It may take some time, but as soon as the government is able to show some impact on policy reform – that will be able to restore the public confidence.”

“And I think going forward, the entire Legco will really focus on livelihood issues. We don’t have to bother with filibustering… all those disruptions… time will tell, and I’m sure that we will continue to thrive.”

The convenor of the pro-Beijing camp, Martin Liao, said people who refuse to accept the changes would be barring themselves from travelling on the “new avenue to democracy”.

The bill will be published in the Gazette and come into effect on May 31. The next legislature is to be decided on December 19.