The Hong Kong government announced electoral changes requiring officials to pledge and maintain an oath of loyalty to Hong Kong and Beijing, on pain of disqualification and barring from standing for reelection for five years.
A bill to “ensure that the patriots rule Hong Kong” has been approved by the executive council and will be tabled in March, Constitutional and Continental Affairs Secretary Erick Tsang said at a press conference Tuesday after- midday.
The announcement came a day after a senior Beijing official said major changes would come to ensure Hong Kong is ruled by “patriots” – a clear sign that China intends to no longer tolerate dissenting voices, 23 years after the surrender of the former British colony. to Chinese rule with the promise to maintain its own rights and freedoms for 50 years.
Following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city last year, authorities decided to expel members of the city’s legislative council deemed insufficiently loyal and gathered leaders veteran opposition on charges including illegal assembly and collusion with foreign forces.
Critics of the government and Western governments accuse Beijing of going back on its word and ending the “one country, two systems” framework to govern the financial center.
The bill extends swearing-in obligations to all participants in public elections, who must swear allegiance to Hong Kong as a special administrative region of China, and to the city’s mini-constitution, the basic law.
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Anyone who advocates or supports Hong Kong independence, or refuses to recognize China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong or the exercise of such sovereignty, cannot perform their duties, Tsang said.
Anyone who violated the oath could be suspended pending a court hearing and possible disqualification. If disqualified, the individual would not be able to run again for five years, a period that could potentially block candidates from two election cycles, which take place every four years.
“To reflect the [solemnity] of taking the oath, we believe that anyone who does not comply with the requirements should face restrictions on their ability to stand for election, ”Tsang said.
Past behavior would be taken into account, the South China Morning Post reported, giving hope that all participants in the unofficial primaries organized by the Democratic caucus last year would be targeted.
Tsang said there was no specific retrospective effect in the bill, “but whether or not we judge the acts committed in the past by a certain person, it would depend on individual circumstances.”
“If you take the oath seriously, you don’t have to worry.”
The reforms were signaled in a speech by Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau chief Xia Baolong this week, which suggested that Beijing was making efforts to ensure that opposition candidates could not run. in the already very limited Hong Kong elections. Xia described the central government’s plans to “improve” the electoral system in Hong Kong, and said the authorities must “fill in the loopholes” that allowed “anti-Chinese troublemakers” to enter politics.
There is no functional opposition in the Hong Kong parliament, after the Democratic caucus en masse resigned in protest at the disqualification of four colleagues last year. More than 100 people were arrested under the National Security Act of 2020 and thousands more were prosecuted for participating in protests in 2019.