In a show of loyalty to President Xi Jinping, all of Hong Kong’s 36 deputies to China’s legislature decided to stay in Beijing to cast their votes on the proposed constitutional amendments on Sunday, abandoning their votes in the city’s Legislative Council by-election.
About 10 of them had planned to return to Hong Kong for the by-election, some deputies have estimated.
But they changed their minds after being informed that the day to vote for the constitutional amendments – allowing President Xi Jinping to stay on as president well past the end of his second term in 2023 – would take place on the same day.
“There are only some 2,000 National People’s Congress deputies. Each vote is very important,” said Professor Wong Yuk-shan, spokesman of the Hong Kong delegation.
All 36 deputies would vote for the amendments as they were necessary to keep the constitution abreast of the times, said Wong, who is also president of the Open University of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong National People’s Congress deputies have held talks to discuss the constitutional amendments and their concerns with the proposals have all been cleared, he added. He criticised foreign media for “wrongly” describing the constitutional amendments as a life tenure for Xi, saying there are still “age and health restrictions”.
He believed Xi would only stay in power if he was supported by the Communist Party and the public.
The proposal to remove the two-term limit on the presidency has sparked a global debate about the dangers of a return to strongman politics.
Even though many had expected Xi – the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong – would find a way to retain power after completing his second five-year term as president, which has yet to start, few estimated he would reveal his cards so early.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official Beijing-based think tank, said local NPC deputies are staying in Beijing to demonstrate their full support to Xi and the Communist Party.
“The central government definitely hopes the amendments would be endorsed with unanimous support and a high attendance rate,” Lau said. “The unanimity could demonstrate the unity of Chinese people even in this controversial issue, and further strengthen the leadership of Communist Party.”
Apart from the proposal to scrap the presidential term limit, a new paragraph that reads “the leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics” was proposed to be added to the constitution.
NPC deputies Tam Yiu-chung and Brave Chan Yung had earlier applied for leave so they could return to Hong Kong and vote at the by-election. But they did so before they knew the vote on the constitutional amendments would take place on the same day. The duo eventually withdrew their leave applications.
“The national legislature is holding important meetings. It does not make sense for the date of the (Hong Kong by-election) to clash with it,” Chan said. Even though he was in Beijing, Chan said, he has worked hard to lobby Hong Kong voters into voting for pro-establishment candidates.
Still, some Hong Kong delegates to the top national advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, had decided to return to Hong Kong to vote because there are no CPPCC meetings on Sunday. They include Starry Lee Wai-king, Leung Chi-cheung and Kenneth Lau Yip-keung.
Both NPC and CPPCC representatives have been in Beijing since earlier this month for the biggest political meetings of the year.
On Sunday, some 2.1 million Hong Kong voters will decide who will fill four of the six seats in the by-election. Six lawmakers were unseated earlier over their improper oath-taking.