China formalizes sweeping Hong Kong electoral shake-up

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China finalized a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system on Tuesday, drastically curbing democratic representation in the city as authorities seek to ensure "patriots" rule the global financial hub.

The measures are part of Beijing's efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip over its freest territory following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a tool to crush dissent.

The changes would see the number of directly elected representatives fall and the number of Beijing-approved officials rise in an expanded legislature, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

As part of the shake-up, a powerful new vetting committee will monitor candidates for public office and work with national security authorities to ensure they are loyal to Beijing.

Chinese authorities have said the shake-up is aimed at getting rid of "loopholes and deficiencies" that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and to ensure only "patriots" run the city.

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The measures are the most significant overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and alter the size and composition of the legislature and electoral committee in favor of pro-Beijing figures.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and several city officials, including the Secretary for Justice, all issued separate statements praising China's move.

"I firmly believe that by improving the electoral system and implementing "patriots administering Hong Kong", the excessive politicization in society and the internal rift that has torn Hong Kong apart can be effectively mitigated," Lam said.

The number of directly elected representatives will drop to 20 from 35 and the size of the legislature increase to 90 seats from 70 currently, Xinhua said, while an election committee responsible for selecting the chief executive will increase from 1,200 members to 1,500.

The representation of 117 community-level district councilors in the election committee would also be scrapped and the six district council seats in the Legislative Council will also go, according to Xinhua.

District councils are the city's only fully democratic institution, and almost 90 percent of the 452 district seats are controlled by the democratic camp after a 2019 vote. They mostly deal with grassroots issues such as public transport links and garbage collection.

The electoral restructuring was endorsed unopposed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, at the apex of China's legislature, Xinhua reported.

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