HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s opposition-devoid legislature approved new powers on Wednesday (May 12) allowing the government to sack public office holders and bar election candidates from standing if they are deemed “disloyal” to the local authorities or China.
The new laws are part of sweeping changes that Beijing has ordered for Hong Kong’s already limited electoral system that will dramatically reduce the number of directly elected politicians and ensure only “staunch patriots” enter politics.
Along with a sweeping national security law, the political changes are part of a broad campaign to quash dissent after large and often violent democracy protests rocked the finance hub in 2019.
Forty legislators approved the new law with, just one dissenting vote in a chamber cleared of opposition members late last year ahead of the current political overhaul.
Under the new powers, all public office holders will be required to make a “pledge of loyalty” that they must adhere to throughout their term.
It includes principal government officials, cabinet members, legislators and judges as well as members of the legislature.
It also includes more than 470 district councillors – local neighbourhood officials who are the only people Hong Kongers can choose via universal suffrage.
At the end of 2019, pro-democracy district council candidates won a landslide in a thumping rebuke of Beijing.
At least 26 district councillors resigned in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s legislature meeting.
The law grants the authorities sweeping vetting powers. Political views of public office holders will be weighed against a “positive” and “negative” list designed to weed out disloyalty and any acts that might “endanger national security”.
Critics say the definitions in those lists are overly broad.
Loyalty vetting will also continue beyond the pledge and throughout a person’s term.
A public official will be immediately suspended if the Secretary for Justice finds him or her disloyal.
Those who are eventually disqualified for their views will also be barred from standing for election for five years.
“Some people might seem serious when taking the oath but can commit unlawful acts afterwards,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip told the legislature, adding that she was “very glad” to vote for the new law.
The authorities are also writing up a separate suite of laws that will also empower a committee – with help of police intelligence – to vet all election candidates for whether they are a national security threat.