Hong Kong's pro-democracy legislators pose for a photo before a press conference at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.
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Pan-democratic opposition in Hong Kong’s city parliament resigns in protest

The facts: Pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong have jointly resigned in protest at Beijing’s disqualification of fellow lawmakers. The Hong Kong government announced the disqualification of four Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) lawmakers on November 11. Shortly after, the remaining 15 pan-democratic delegates announced their joint resignation, reducing the total number of delegates to 43, including 41 pro-Beijing loyalists.

A decision passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress just hours earlier was the basis for the disqualification. Accordingly, LegCo members who “support Hong Kong independence, refuse the Central Government’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, collude with foreign forces or commit other acts that endanger national security” can be disqualified by declaration of the Hong Kong government.

The decision effectively circumvents existing LegCo procedures and provides Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration a shortcut for cleaning house and excluding candidates from future elections. While Lam tried to present the move as in line with Hong Kong’s rule of law and democratic system, Beijing’s Hong Kong Liaison Office bluntly proclaimed that “Hong Kong must be governed by patriots” – in other words, those that support the leadership of the CCP.

What to watch: These developments will forever change the substance of the Legislative Council. Hong Kong is entering a “post-parliamentary era” in which opposition work likely will no longer take place in this body. This also closes one of the remaining avenues for peaceful, democratic engagement between the polarized camps, meaning political opposition will move to other spheres and potentially back on the streets.

MERICS analysis: “The pro-democracy opposition has decided to leave the parliament rather than participate in a charade of performative democracy, where no meaningful opposition is allowed. Hong Kong’s democracy was frail to begin with - only half the seats on the LegCo are directly elected by the people, and the chief executive is chosen by an election committee. With this new executive power, Beijing has finally succeeded in remaking the city’s parliament in its own image – but also torn down the last semblance of democracy." MERICS Senior Analyst Katja Drinhausen.

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This article is part of the November 12 issue of MERICS China Briefing.