This article was originally published by i on 31 March 2021.

A sweeping reform on Hong Kong’s electoral system is just one of Beijing’s latest assaults on the city’s democracy and liberty

Hongkongers have been calling for democracy and general elections since the 1980s, and we were promised for a gradual progress towards a free and fair election. However, on Tuesday, Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament has just imposed a sweeping reform of Hong Kong’s electoral system, turning the semi-democratic elections to a selection controlled by Beijing.

The Chinese government tightens its hold on the city’s elections under the new system, in which government-approved panellists will replace district council members on the election committee for Chief Executive. This Beijing-controlled committee has the power to send 40 delegates to the future legislature, diluting the influence of directly elected legislators. Worse, the number of directly elected seats has been reduced by nearly half, from 35 to 20. As a result, even if elected, democrats can only play a minor role because their veto power has been removed.

Yet, whether the members of The Democratic Party can still run for office is questioned. In Beijing’s eyes, referring to the case of earlier arrests on the 47 democratic activists, blocking government bills could be seen as a subversive act. Since nominees for public office are now vetted by the Hong Kong political police, and pro-democracy candidates are likely to be branded as “non-loyalists” it’s likely they will be barred from running.

The ramifications can be far-reaching. For the first time, China imposed the reform package unilaterally, without any local consultation. A bad precedent has been set for further political overhauls in the future. The measures that stifle the voices of directly elected officials are without a doubt a massive step back in Hong Kong’s democratisation and a violation of Beijing’s pledge of democracy.

With a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the legislature, Beijing loyalists enjoy a de facto advantage of an overwhelming majority meaning they can pass whatever they want. In addition, for the first time, Beijing reserved seats in The Legislative Council for Chinese companies, as well as representatives of China’s National People’s Congress (the governing body) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (its advisors). Without a doubt, potential legislation would favour China’s interests over local needs.

The reform is just one of Beijing’s latest assaults on the city’s democracy and liberty. In recent weeks, Beijing has tightened its cultural red line. Beijing loyalists accused local art institutions of violating national security legislation. Following the nomination of a short documentary on Hong Kong’s protests, Do Not Split, local broadcasters refused to air the Oscars in Hong Kong for the first time since 1969. Protest films were also removed from theatres, and a university cancelled an exhibition of World Press Photo winners. Amid the national security law, a cultural revolution is sweeping through the city’s art scenes.

As a former lawmaker and wanted exiled activist due to the threat of National Security Law, it’s devastating to witness the fall of the city and the overt annihilation of the chamber. As Beijing once again breaks its promise of autonomy in the Joint Declaration and steps up its reckless move on Hong Kong, we call on Britain and other world leaders to stand up aand impose sanctions on those responsible for the city’s political backsliding.

We, as Hongkoners, will continue to voice for our beloved city and preserve our proud identity. Democracy prevails, with the help of solidarity and coordinated actions. Stand up and resist authoritarian expansion now.