Hong Kong’s Lam says China’s planned electoral changes could prompt vote delay

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Monday that China’s planned changes to the electoral system could further delay a vote for the city’s legislature, but she was still uncertain on the timing.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is expected to approve on Thursday a resolution that will reduce democratic representation in Hong Kong institutions and vet any candidates for “patriotism”.

The measures will tweak the size and composition of Hong Kong’s legislature and the committee selecting the chief executive further in favour of pro-Beijing figures. The electoral committee will also be given powers to select many of the legislators.

Speaking for the first time since returning from Beijing, where she attended the NPC opening last week, Lam said the changes “logically” mean that a vote for the Legislative Council needs to take place after an election for the members of the electoral committee, currently scheduled for December.

“At the moment I’m not yet in a position to tell you whether we could adhere to the September 5, 2021, as a day for the general election of the Legislative Council,” Lam told reporters.

The vote was initially scheduled for Sept. 2020, but delayed for at least a year, with the government citing the coronavirus.

Riding high after mass 2019 anti-government protests, the pro-democracy opposition had slim hopes for an unprecedented majority in the city’s mini-parliament.

But Beijing has since moved swiftly to reassert its control, with the imposition of a sweeping national security law in June 2020. Authorities have arrested most high-profile opposition politicians and activists for offences under the new law or related to the protests.

With any public office holders now set to be vetted for their “patriotism”, political parties disbanding, democratic politicians either in jail or in exile, and institutions stacked with pro-Beijing figures by design, it is unclear what room there will be left in the city for any opposition.

Critics have decried Beijing’s moves as the end of the road for democratic dreams in Hong Kong, whose mini-constitution states universal suffrage as its goal.

Lam said the measures will improve the city’s ability to govern itself.

Reporting by Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Michael Pery

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