The District Council elections, held amid anti-government protests in November 2019, saw a record turnout and a landslide opposition victory. There were hopes the polls would set the stage for greater democracy in Hong Kong. But they have proved to be a landmark of a different kind. Reforms approved by the National People’s Congress last week will take us back in time. They are intended to ensure only “patriots” will govern Hong Kong. But the changes also guarantee that landslide victories for the opposition will be consigned to the past. The move has shattered Hong Kong’s democratic dream. As officials seek to “explain” the decision, it is worth recalling the result of what may be the city’s last truly democratic poll. China trying to ‘erode democratic elements’ in Hong Kong, G7 says Votes were cast by 2.9 million people, 71.2 per cent of the electorate. Democrat candidates were favoured by 55 per cent of voters and won almost nine out of every 10 seats. The people of Hong Kong had conveyed a strong message. But the result, at a time of often-violent civil unrest, was too much for Beijing. Moves were soon under way to reform the election system to ensure candidates deemed to be “anti-China troublemakers” would no longer be able to stand. The reforms will see the Election Committee expand to include even more government supporters. The committee chooses the chief executive and will, in future, also vet candidates for the legislature. Some of its members will sit in Legco for the first time since 2004. A new committee will ensure candidates are sufficiently “patriotic”. The distance between the government and the people has been at the heart of Hong Kong’s troubles since the 1997 handover Hong Kong people still get to vote in Legislative Council elections, but not necessarily for the candidates they wish to elect. Officials admit some will be disappointed by the changes. That is putting it mildly. The people who need an explanation are the 1.6 million who voted for democrat candidates in the last election. They are not likely to be given the chance to vote for their favourites in the future. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, in defending the reforms, spoke of deficiencies in the current system. But when she says “deficiencies” what she really means is “democracy”. The only deficiency from the government’s point of view is that the existing system gives its opponents a chance of winning. The government no longer needs to fear adverse election results. Officials say there will still be room for democrats, but they will clearly be in a minority. No doubt, proceedings in Legco will be more orderly and the government’s policies easier to implement. But this does not mean the city will be better governed. The reforms are likely to worsen problems that already exist. The distance between the government and the people has been at the heart of Hong Kong’s troubles since the 1997 handover. The making of gradual and orderly progress towards universal suffrage was intended to close that gap. The existing system, by favouring vested interests, has made it more difficult for Hong Kong to tackle deep-seated problems such as the wealth gap and the housing crisis. Now, it seems, those interests will be further entrenched. Will democracy have a chance in Hong Kong after Beijing’s electoral reform? This might not be quite so important if the government listened to its people. But it has consistently failed to do so. A failure to properly consult on the extradition bill in 2019 was a factor in sparking the mass protests and, later, civil unrest. The government is yet to make any attempt to heal the wounds. It can only be hoped that the reforms will ease Beijing’s long-standing concerns about Hong Kong and that the process of democratic development can start again. Perhaps universal suffrage in some form will be achieved before 2047, when guarantees about the maintenance of Hong Kong’s lifestyle expire. But as the political system becomes less representative, the government must find a way of ensuring its policies reflect the will of the community. A call for officials to listen to the people was a constant refrain in the early years after the handover. It will be more important than ever now.