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BEIJING/HONG KONG -China finalised a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported, 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 city 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.
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.
Maria Tam, a senior Hong Kong politician who works with China's parliament on matters relating to Hong Kong's mini-constitution told Reuters the Committee for Safeguarding National Security would help the new vetting committee to "understand the background of all of the candidates, specifically whether they had complied with the National Security Law."
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.
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 favour of pro-Beijing figures.
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 politicisation 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 councillors 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% 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.