Hong Kong’s legislature will proceed with a second debate on May 26 over laws to implement a Beijing-decreed electoral overhaul, after a speedy approval in the first round from a bills committee dominated by the pro-establishment camp. A Legislative Council committee on Monday wrapped up its scrutiny of the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill, 2021, following 12 meetings held since April 17, while unanimously endorsing a series of changes put forward by the government. “We would like to express our gratitude to lawmakers for giving their all to cooperate with the government in scrutinising the bill over the past month,” Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai told the committee on Monday. “We expect the bill to resume its second reading on May 26 and hope it will have its third reading passed as soon as possible, so we can start working on the coming important elections.” The bill was scrutinised in the near-complete absence of opposition lawmakers as most from the bloc had resigned en masse last November over the disqualification of four of their colleagues. The legislation scrutinised on Monday was drafted to implement Beijing’s drastic shake-up of the local electoral system, unveiled in March and aimed at ensuring only “patriots” could rule the city. Under the proposals, slammed by critics as “retrogressive”, the number of directly elected seats in geographical constituencies would be slashed from 35 to 20, in an expanded 90-seat legislature. The changes also empower the already pro-Beijing-dominated and now 1,500-strong Election Committee – originally tasked only with picking the city’s leader – to nominate Legco candidates and field 40 representatives of its own. A Candidate Eligibility Review Committee comprising a handful of principal officials and community leaders will also be created to decide on the eligibility of all candidates running in key elections, with help from national security police. New Hong Kong Election Committee packed with even more Beijing allies In a last-minute amendment submitted on Monday, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau proposed writing into law that the Hong Kong government must submit the proposed line-up of the review committee to Beijing for record. It also sought to amend the bill to clearly spell out that all decisions made by the powerful panel would not be judicially reviewable – an element already stipulated in the blueprint imposed by Beijing earlier. New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee questioned whether the amendment meant the line-up of the vetting committee would require Beijing’s approval. But deputy solicitor general (constitutional affairs) Llewellyn Mui Kei-fat said the submission of the committee’s composition was only for the record and would not require permission from central authorities. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had said she hoped the umbrella bill, first unveiled on April 13 and consolidating more than 700 pages of amendments to existing ordinances and subsidiary legislation, would be passed by the end of May. Hong Kong will hold three key elections in the coming year. The contest for seats on the Election Committee, which has been empowered to control all key polls, will be held on September 19, while the Legco polls, which were postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be further pushed back to December 19. Hong Kong’s national security law: ‘fake news’, protest-group probe and elections overhaul The race for the city’s top job will be held on March 27 next year. Meanwhile, ex-lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, among 47 opposition activists charged with subversion for taking part in an unofficial primary run-off for the postponed Legco elections, announced on Monday he would resign from his role as vice-chairman of the Democratic Party. Lam, who is in remand while awaiting trial, said he had no choice but to step down as he could not fulfil his role behind bars. But he stressed that he would not quit the party because of the case. Prosecutors had called the unofficial poll a “massive and well-organised scheme” aimed at paralysing the government and toppling the city’s leader by winning a controlling majority in the legislature.