Hong Kong should quickly enact additional national security protections and press ahead with eliminating the legacy of British colonial rule, candidates argued on Friday in a debate pitch for the biggest block of seats in the revamped legislature. The televised face-off, the first held over a Legislative Council race, drew all 51 hopefuls eligible for the 40 spots reserved for the powerful Election Committee that dominates the city’s political landscape and will hold sway in the enlarged, 90-member chamber chosen on December 19 . Pressed into a tightly controlled format, the candidates were divided into groups of three or four and given eight minutes to introduce themselves and debate a single topic while posing questions to their rivals. The forum was hosted by the Hong Kong Coalition, a pro-Beijing group created by former city leaders Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying being, and spanned four hours, with the candidates receiving all questions about social policies in advance. Perhaps unsurprisingly given most were firmly aligned with the central government, the participants found themselves more often agreeing on the issues than attacking one another. With the opposition absent from the election, a challenge facing the candidates is how they can distinguish themselves individually when they all belong to the same camp. Many argued that Hong Kong should press ahead with fulfilling the obligations laid out in Article 23 of the Basic Law mini-constitution that requires the city to enact local legislation protecting national security. That bill would be in addition to the national security law Beijing imposed last year that bans secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. The government abandoned a bill based on Article 23 after more than 500,000 people, who feared their rights and freedoms would be curbed, took to the streets on July 1, 2003. Reforms must be carried out to make them genuine Chinese, instead of followers of the British system Candidate Andrew Fung In one of the 13 groups, all four hopefuls agreed with speeding up the legislative process to meet the Article 23 requirements. Chan Siu-hung, CLP Group managing director, said the security law imposed by Beijing had already paved the way for reviving legislation for the local version. “It is necessary to deliver Article 23 as soon as possible … [Worries expressed by corporations] could be alleviated by extensive consultations,” he said. Echoing Chan, businessman Johnny Ng Kit-chong said: “There will be smearing of the legislation by both local and foreign forces … If elected, all of us must take up the role to explain the benefits of Article 23 to the public.” In another session, Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, who was a top media aide when Leung led Hong Kong from 2012 to 2017, made suggestions about the city’s “decolonialisation”, or eliminating the legacy of British rule that ended with the handover to China in 1997. Legco education seat hopefuls say closing schools as pupil numbers drop bad policy Fung proposed sending senior administrative officers to the nation’s remote western regions such as Qinghai, Xinjiang and Tibet for at least half a year before they could be promoted. “From their efforts in fighting the pandemic, I can see some people insisting against integrating with the mainland and complying with the mainland’s standards,” he said. “Reforms must be carried out to make them genuine Chinese, instead of followers of the British system.” The debate also offered a chance for high-profile figures who had rarely spoken about politics to offer their views on government policy. Reverend Peter Koon Ho-ming appealed to residents to “overcome prejudice and tolerate the inconvenience” brought by Covid-19 control measures in order to resume quarantine-free travel across the border. Among the 51 hopefuls, four delivered their views in Mandarin: Taiwan-born Phoenix TV presenter Tsang Chin-i, Bocom International Holdings chairman Tan Yueheng, Hong Kong New Era Development Think Tank chief Tu Haiming and City University biomedical engineering Professor Sun Dong. Businessman Allan Zeman and Mike Rowse, former director general of the government department InvestHK, were the only two English speakers. “Hong Kong has reached a very critical stage … We need to relaunch with a new mindset in getting policies and government initiatives done,” Rowse said. “Enough of the doom and gloom, and return to the can-do spirit.” Over half of Hong Kong voters can’t name candidates in Legco poll: survey The debate was watched by Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, who posted a photo on his Facebook page showing him gathered with colleagues in his office for the live stream “to better understand visions” of the candidates. The 1,448 members of the Election Committee, previously tasked solely with choosing the city’s leader, will vote to send 40 candidates to Legco, some of whom, or all, may come from within its own ranks. The winners will become the largest force in the legislature. Beijing’s overhaul reduced the number of directly-elected geographical seats from 35 to 20 and trimmed the number in the functional constituencies from 35 to 30. The Registration and Electoral Office said on Friday that training and practice sessions had been held in the past two weeks to help about 38,000 civil servants familiarise themselves with the workflow at the more than 620 ordinary polling stations to be set up across the city next month.