Hong Kong electoral changes
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The Candidate Eligibility Review Committee is chaired by Chief Secretary John Lee. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong electoral changes: powerful vetting committee that will review hopefuls in coming polls holds first meeting

  • Seven-member body, established recently as part of Beijing’s drastic overhaul of city’s political system, holds talks but does not disclose details
  • Chaired by No 2 official John Lee, the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee will assess if election aspirants are national security threat
A powerful vetting committee newly established to ensure candidates in Hong Kong’s coming elections pose no threat to national security held its first meeting on Wednesday, marking another step ahead in the roll-out of new polling processes imposed by Beijing.

Seven members of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee (CERC), chaired by Chief Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu, held talks but did not reveal what was discussed at the table.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last Tuesday appointed members to the body, created as part of Beijing’s drastic overhaul of the city’s electoral system.

They included constitutional affairs chief Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, security secretary Chris Tang Ping-keung and home affairs minister Caspar Tsui Ying-wai.

Chief Secretary John Lee to lead vetting committee for election hopefuls

In a statement announcing the meeting on Wednesday, the Chief Secretary’s Office reiterated that the functions of the committee included reviewing and confirming the eligibility of candidates in the chief executive race, as well as of those running for seats on the Election Committee and the Legislative Council.

The expanded Election Committee is traditionally task with selecting the city’s leader, but it has also been empowered to nominate hopefuls for the legislature and field representatives of its own.

“The CERC will decide whether the person concerned complies with the legal requirements and conditions for upholding the Basic Law and swearing allegiance to the HKSAR. In its decision-making process, the CERC may consult the National Security Committee,” the statement read, referring to another body chaired by Lam.

The CERC will also base its assessments on findings from police’s national security unit.

New BN(O) passport rule for members of Hong Kong’s powerful election body

The vetting committee was proposed by Beijing in March as part of its plan to revamp Hong Kong’s political system and ensure that only patriots could govern the city.

A trio of pro-Beijing heavyweights – former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie, Legco ex-president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai and former Chinese University president Lawrence Lau Juen-yee – were chosen as unofficial members.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, who is also an adviser to the government in the Executive Council, Lam’s cabinet, said he expected the vetting committee to be fair to every individual.

“I am not worried about whether I meet their requirements. But I think they must strictly follow the law, and have a unified and clear set of standards for every hopeful,” he said.

Hong Kong’s key polls for the Election Committee, Legco and the chief executive post will be held in September, December and next March respectively.

Separately in Legco on Wednesday, lawmakers approved the latest changes to the rule book, stipulating that members must don business attire for council meetings.

As part of the latest approved changes, legislators can only display banners while delivering speeches. Placards, especially those that could undermine the dignity of the legislature, will no longer be allowed on lawmakers’ desks in the chamber.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung