Lam gives support to electoral changes in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam gave her clear support Tuesday to electoral reforms in the semi-autonomous city, a day after a top Beijing official signaled major changes would be coming to ensure is run by “patriots.”

Lam said political strife and unrest in the city, including anti-government protests in 2019 as well as protests in 2014, showed there were always some people who are “rather hostile” to the central authorities in China.

“I can understand that the central authorities are very concerned, they do not want the situation to deteriorate further in such a way that ‘one country, two systems’ cannot be implemented,” Lam said at a regular news briefing.

The “one country, two systems” framework allows civil rights in Hong Kong that are not found on the mainland and was promised after the territory reverted from British to Chinese control in 1997. The protesters say Hong Kong’s freedoms have been eroded as Beijing seeks more control.

Her comments came a day after Xia Baolong, director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said that Hong Kong could only be ruled by “patriots,” which exclude those who lobby other countries for foreign sanctions or “troublemakers.”

The electoral changes are expected to be discussed and possibly passed at next month’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

They will likely take the form of a redistribution of votes in the 1,200-member electoral commission that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, subject to Beijing’s veto. Among those most likely to lose their voting rights are elected district councilors, many of whom are critics of Beijing. Their voting rights will likely be handed to Hong Kong’s representatives to the CPPCC, ensuring that they will follow Beijing’s directives.

It remains unclear whether Lam, who is deeply unpopular among Hong Kong’s population, will seek a second five-year term in next year’s poll.

Another possibility is that China will close what it calls “loopholes” in the election for members of the Legislative Council, now entirely dominated by pro-Beijing legislators since opposition deputies resigned en masse last year after four were expelled for being insufficiently loyal to the government. Lam postponed elections for the council last year, citing concerns over COVID-19, in a move largely seen as designed to prevent an opposition victory.