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A man (left) is over­come by pep­per spray from riot po­lice as thou­sands of pro­test­ers (cen­tre) sur­rounded the gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters in Hong Kong’s Cen­tral Dis­trict on Sun­day. Hong Kong po­lice used tear gas and warned of fur­ther mea­sures as they tried to clear pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers (right), who were out in full force or­gan­ise them­selves be­fore the han­dover, took this to mean that univer­sal suf­frage would be a re­al­ity by 2007.

But such hopes were soon dis­ap­pointed by the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, which have proved far more in­ter­ven­tion­ist than Deng ad­vo­cated.

In April 2004, the stand­ing com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress (NPC), one of the bod­ies that rep­re­sent the main­land in Hong Kong, an­nounced that univer­sal suf­frage would not be im­ple­mented for the elec­tion of a chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2007. That decision was re­peated for the 2012 elec­tion. But the com­mit­tee has de­cided that univer­sal suf­frage could be im­ple­mented for the elec­tion of the chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2017, andthat­sub­se­quentlyallmem­ber­soft­heLeg­co­could­be­elected this way. But only the chief ex­ec­u­tive has the nec­es­sary con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to en­act this.

Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Ba­sic Law, Le­ung Chun-ying, the cur­rent chief ex­ec­u­tive, must sub­mit a re­port be­fore the NPC can make a rul­ing “in the light of the sit­u­a­tion and in ac­cord with the prin­ci­ples of grad­ual and or­derly de­vel­op­ment”. Amend­ments will then be put be­fore the leg­isla­tive coun­cil and can only be adopted with a twothirds majority. Given ad­min­is­tra­tive timescales, the re­form pro­posal must be sub­mit­ted no later than the end of 2014 for univer­sal suf­frage to be pos­si­ble for the 2016 and 2017 elec­tions.

With no change on the hori­zon, democrats who have cam­paigned for years de­cided to get or­gan­ised. Since Jan­uary 16 2013, Oc­cupy Cen­tral, led by law Pro­fes­sor Benny Tai Yiu-ting of Hong Kong Univer­sity, has been grow­ing. “After so many un­ful­filled prom­ises, hav­ing waited 20 or 30 years, I re­alised we had reached the fi­nal stage,” he told me. “Beijing is promis­ing univer­sal suf­frage. But what kind? I per­son­ally felt the need to es­tab­lish a process to cre­ate po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and fi­nally achieve a true democ­racy.”

Benny Tai wrote in Jan­uary last year that he pro­posed bring­ing to­gether at least 10 000 cit­i­zens “to par­tic­i­pate in a non­vi­o­lent sit-in with the aim of im­mo­bil­is­ing Cen­tral if no sub­stan­tial progress is made be­fore the sum­mer of 2014”. Cen­tral is the fi­nan­cial heart of the city, where some of the world’s big­gest banks and busi­nesses have their head­quar­ters. Paralysing business trans­ac­tions and the free move­ment of peo­ple, even tem­po­rar­ily, would chal­lenge Beijing’s con­trol.

Benny Tai ex­plained: “We want to pro­voke the po­lice, goad them into vi­o­lence. If there are enough of us, the po­lice will be tempted to use greater force. They haven’t used tear gas or wa­ter can­nons against the peo­ple of Hong Kong since the 60s. If they used them against us, it would show how un­demo­cratic our gov­ern­ment is.”

Oc­cupy Cen­tral gained mo­men­tum as the de­bate crys­tallised around the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ar­ti­cle 45 of the Ba­sic Law, which states that the chief ex­ec­u­tive will be elected “by univer­sal suf­frage upon nom­i­na­tion by a broadly rep­re­sen­ta­tive nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee in ac­cor­dance with demo­cratic pro­ce­dures”.

Beijing has em­pha­sised that “the chief ex­ec­u­tive to be elected by univer­sal suf­frage must be a per­son who loves the coun­try and Hong Kong. ... ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ is a ma­jor is­sue of gov­er­nance to the cen­tral lead­er­ship”. The Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties want to fil­ter the can­di­dates so that no op­po­si­tion fig­ure can be elected, which is in­tended to neu­tralise any se­cu­rity threat to main­land China.

The cur­rent elec­toral com­mit­tee would be­come the nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee that se­lects can­di­dates. So the 5 mil­lion peo­ple­ofHongKong­would­elec­tachiefex­ec­u­tive­byu­ni­ver­sal suf­frage from can­di­dates in­di­rectly cho­sen by the Chi­nese lead­er­ship. China’s white pa­per on in­sti­tu­tions – the first since 1997 – firmly re­asserts its con­trol of Hong Kong.

Some par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, univer­sity teach­ers and as­so­ci­a­tions op­pose Beijing un­der the banner of the Al­liance for True Democ­racy. They want a nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee di­rectly elected by the peo­ple – or at least one with a greater de­gree of demo­cratic le­git­i­macy.

Some even ad­vo­cate the abo­li­tion of the com­mit­tee and an un­reg­u­lated right to stand for elec­tion. In March 2013, Chan Kin-man, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong; and the Rev­erend Chu Yiu-ming, a strong sup­porter of hu­man rights and the Tianan­men demon­stra­tors in 1989, joined the move­ment along with sev­eral youth as­so­ci­a­tions such as the Stu­dents’ Fed­er­a­tion.

The pro-Beijing camp is hos­tile. The Hong Kong au­thor­i­ties reg­u­larly state that they will not tol­er­ate “il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity”.

It is also sig­nif­i­cant that Beijing pub­lished its white pa­per be­fore the cit­i­zens’ ref­er­en­dum on univer­sal suf­frage or­gan­ised by Oc­cupy Cen­tral this June, which was im­me­di­ately de­nounced as il­le­gal. But to the sur­prise even of the or­gan­is­ers, about800 000peo­plevote­donli­ne­o­ratunof­fi­cial polling sta­tions.

Since then, 500 000 peo­ple took part in the an­nual march on July 1, at the end of which 500 ac­tivists were ar­rested for an “il­le­gal sit-in”. Beijing’s tone is hard­en­ing.

On Au­gust 31, the PNC is­sued a re­minder that only can­di­dates who had re­ceived more than half of the nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee’s votes would be el­i­gi­ble to stand. Given the makeup of the com­mit­tee, no demo­crat has a chance.

Sev­eral mod­er­ate democrats have made pro­pos­als (to no avail) that ad­vo­cate the re­ten­tion of the nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee to al­low room for ne­go­ti­a­tions with Beijing, and pre­serve the op­tion of pre­sent­ing a demo­cratic can­di­date for elec­tion by univer­sal suf­frage.

Benny Tai, ac­knowl­edg­ing his fail­ure so far, has promised to en­cour­age “an era of civil dis­obe­di­ence”, though he has not yet come up with a pro­gramme or a timetable.

With the support of their univer­si­ties, stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions planned a week of strikes from Septem­ber 22 and high school stu­dents called for a boy­cott on Septem­ber 26.

Twenty-seven pro-democ­racy MPs have com­mit­ted to vot­ing against the draft amend­ment sup­ported by Beijing. Since Septem­ber 28, the streets have been filled with an ever-grow­ing num­ber of pro­test­ers.


– Dis­trib­uted by Agence

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