Lawmakers in Hong Kong’s new “patriots only” legislature swore oaths of allegiance on Monday as it sat for the first time following a new selection process that barred the city’s traditional democracy opposition.
In a ceremony laden with symbolism reflecting Hong Kong’s new political realities, 90 lawmakers took their oaths in the chamber where the city’s traditional emblem had been replaced by China’s.
The loyalty oaths were overseen by city leader Carrie Lam whose administration no longer needs to face any meaningful opposition from a once boisterous legislature now stacked with loyalists for the next four years.
China has remoulded Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image after huge and sometimes violent democracy protests swept the financial hub in 2019.
A national security law has criminalised much dissent while new laws were passed to purge from public office anyone deemed unpatriotic.
Elections under these new rules were held last month for the legislature.
All candidates were vetted for their political loyalty and only 20 of the 90 seats were directly elected, while the rest are chosen by pro-Beijing committees.
The result is a law-making body that authorities have hailed as being filled with patriots and devoid of disruptive “anti-China” elements.
Only one of the 90 lawmakers who made it through the vetting and got elected identifies as “non-establishment”.
But Tik Chi-yuen is not from the city’s traditional pro-democracy block.
Most of Hong Kong’s best known democracy activists are in jail, have fled overseas or left politics since Beijing’s crackdown began.
Monday’s ceremony was completed without incident — a stark contrast to 2016 when six pro-democracy legislators used their oaths to chant slogans or display banners. All those legislators were later disqualified or unseated soon after.
Authoritarian China has portrayed its new political system for Hong Kong as a way to return stability and says pluralism is still tolerated.
Critics, including many western nations, say Beijing has shredded its promise that Hong Kong would keep its liberties and autonomy after its 1997 handover by Britain.
Starry Lee, a legislator and head of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party the DAB, thanked Beijing for “bringing Hong Kong back to the right track and returning stability to the legislature”.
“I am excited because Hong Kong has entered a new era when we can get rid of political disputes and join hands to improve the governance,” Lee told reporters.
Last week 89 of the 90 lawmakers issued a joint statement supporting the national security police’s raid and arrests against pro-democracy online news outlet Stand News.
Tik was the only one who did not sign.