Patriotic power play a game changer

Editorial | Mary Ma 23 Feb 2021

The speech by Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Xia Baolong at the virtual forum on one country, two systems has officially raised the curtain of a new round of political reforms in the SAR in a direction that could well write off changes made over the years.

Xia has seldom made public speeches since taking over from Zhang Xiaoming a year ago.

And this rare major public address was earth shaking.

When the NPC and CPPCC meet for their plenary sessions in March, the subject of political reform will probably be included in the agenda.

That is contrary to speculation that it would be taken up by the NPC standing committee instead of the plenary.

As Xia addressed the forum, one word stood out prominently: patriots. Indeed, patriotism has emerged as the central theme of what is upcoming.

Xia said the SAR leadership, from the executive to the legislative and judicial branches, must comprise of "staunch patriots." But who are they exactly?

He then proceeded to spell out who will not be considered patriotic.

Specifically, these include those who hysterically attacked the central government, openly advocated Hong Kong independence, bad-mouthed the country and Hong Kong internationally, called for sanctions against the nation and the SAR, and advocated mutual destruction during the 2019 protests.

Clearly, names broadly brushed under these categories will be excluded from bodies of authority following the political reforms.

It's little wonder that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor appeared a little embarrassed as she pledged loyal support to the reforms after taking the Chinese vaccine Sinovac in a PR stunt. She seemed uncertain if everyone under her was as patriotic.

Although Xia stopped short of spelling out what the reform will be like, it can be expected to primarily focus on the electoral systems at the various levels so that none of those considered to be not patriotic will participate in the elections.

First comes the Election Committee which selects the chief executive.

In the last CE election, the pro-democracy opposition secured a minor, but substantive, presence in the Election Committee.

It is more likely than not that, following the reform, there will be no repeat of such an occurrence in the next exercise.

Then there's the Legislative Council.

The legislature is currently formed by indirectly elected functional and directly elected geographical constituencies.

While the proportional representation system adopted for the geographical constituencies since 1997 has ensured proportional representation from rival political camps in Legco, will it be modified to enable Beijing a tighter grip on the outcome?

It's probable.

Third, in the functional constituencies, the district council constituency has become so controversial to Beijing that it may also undergo surgery as the district councils are now overwhelmingly dominated by pro-democracy activists.

Also, will the existing arrangement for some selected administrative officers to disqualify undesirable candidates during the nomination stage be replaced by a more formal mechanism involving a committee tasked with vetting candidates' patriotic attachment?

During the NPC and CPPCC plenaries, more information is expected, but not necessarily all the details immediately.



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