Press release March 9, 2021
Hong Kong: Proposed Electoral Changes an Assault on Democratic Principles
The proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system will result in a Legislative Council (Legco) that shuts prodemocracy members out, while cementing Beijing’s control over the territory
In response to the draft decision being deliberated by the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) to impose electoral changes in Hong Kong, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“China’s proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would destroy any remaining prospect of democratic elections in Hong Kong and seal the Legislative Council’s fate as barely more than a rubber-stamp body. Freedom House calls on Beijing to reverse course and step back from imposing these changes. The Chinese Communist Party leadership again demonstrates its fundamental refusal to accept popular will for democracy, no matter how broad or unequivocal, when it poses a challenge to absolute party control,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
“By rewriting Hong Kong’s electoral system, while 47 prodemocracy members face potential life sentences for participating in a primary election in 2020, Beijing’s intent is clear: crushing any opposition to its rule in Hong Kong. This assault on democracy in Hong Kong will have long-standing implications for governance in the territory and facilitate Beijing’s ability to suppress an even wider range of human rights, including internet, press, and religious freedom. The move demands a strong international response, including but not limited to sanctions for those responsible for ongoing violations of rights in Hong Kong and safe passage for Hong Kongers wishing to leave.”
On March 5, the NPC announced that a draft decision on electoral changes in Hong Kong had been submitted to the legislative body for deliberation, with a vote set for March 11. Though the full text of the draft has not been made public, the vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee said in a speech that the changes would “remove existing institutional risks” and ensure that “patriots” lead the administration of Hong Kong.
The proposed changes include: a “patriot” qualification screening for candidates in all elections; a reduction in the number of directly elected Legco seats, with a “large proportion” of members being appointed by the unelected Election Committee; and changes to the composition and size of the Election Committee, which selects the chief executive, to add another pro-Beijing sector and eliminate seats held by prodemocracy district councilors. After the NPC votes, the Standing Committee will draft legislation and amend the annexes of the Basic Law, the territory’s local constitution, bypassing any consultation with the people of Hong Kong, in a process that mirrors the introduction of the National Security Law.
Ahead of the NPC announcement, local media outlets reported that Legco elections, which were originally due in September 2020, would likely be again delayed, this time to 2022. Chief Executive Carrie Lam first delayed the elections last July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though pandemic-related deaths were relatively low. In February 2021, Hong Kong authorities charged 47 members of the prodemocracy camp with “conspiracy to commit subversion” under the National Security Law for organizing an informal primary ahead of last year’s cancelled elections. The current Legco has no opposition members, after the prodemocracy camp resigned in protest of the disqualification of four of their colleagues in November 2020.
The last elections held in Hong Kong, for the territory’s district councils, took place in November 2019. Prodemocracy candidates won a record-breaking 389 of 452 elected seats with the highest voter turnout since the territory first held district council elections.
Hong Kong is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2021. China is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020. Freedom House is also following the deteriorating conditions in Hong Kong and their global implications in its monthly China Media Bulletin.