Hong Kong Sets Election Date, Pushes China-Backed Overhaul

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Hong Kong will hold its Legislative Council election on Dec. 19 after delaying the vote by more than a year because of the pandemic, a move that allows the government to push through changes that give China a veto over any pro-democracy politician.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the changes on Tuesday, after she said her advisory Executive Council approved a bill to implement China’s plan to overhaul the city’s elections. The new rules will also make it illegal to organize public activities that incite others to not vote, cast blank votes or cast invalid ballots, Lam said.

Her government can now introduce a bill in the Legislative Council featuring various amendments ordered up by China’s top legislative body. The changes, which will dramatically alter Hong Kong’s already-limited elections, need Lam’s administration to change local laws.

“All we have to do is reflect these details in local legislation,” Lam told reporters in a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, noting that the English version of the bill is around 600 pages.

Earlier Tuesday, Lam said she wouldn’t prevent voters from casting blank ballots but that the situation would be different if “some people organize or intentionally incite voters collectively to do certain acts.”

This may involve acts that undermine or manipulate elections, which the Hong Kong government is required to regulate under the decision handed down by China, she said.

China’s broader plan to change Hong Kong’s elections, which were approved by the National People’s Congress last month, also established a “review committee” to vet any candidate for office to ensure they are patriots loyal to the Communist Party in Beijing.

The changes increase the size of the Election Committee that selects the chief executive to 1,500 from 1,200, and eliminate the 117 seats on that body previously allotted to district councilors -- many of whom are from the opposition following a landslide win for democracy advocates in late 2019.

The new move also enlarges the Legislative Council to 90 seats from 70, but reduces the number of directly elected seats in the chamber to just 20 while also granting a committee of pro-China loyalists the ability to appoint 40 representatives.

“We don’t want to see anything done to undermine elections,” Teresa Cheng, the city’s justice secretary, said at the briefing.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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