Hong Kong ac­tivists stand up for demo­cratic rights against main­land-backed elec­tion re­form pro­pos­als


Hong Kong’s gov­ern­ment un­veiled elec­tion re­form pro­pos­als Wed­nes­day, set­ting the stage for an­other round of con­fronta­tion with pro-democ­racy ac­tivists and law­mak­ers op­posed to Bei­jing­man­dated re­stric­tions on can­di­dates for the city’s top job.

The long- ex­pected re­form pack­age made some tweaks but gave lit­tle ground to prodemoc­racy lead­ers, whose re­jec­tion of the gov­ern­ment’s ini­tial pro­posal last year sparked protests that saw key streets in the city oc­cu­pied for nearly three months and vi­o­lent clashes with riot po­lice. Nearly 1,000 peo­ple were ar­rested dur­ing what was called the Oc­cupy Cen­tral protest move­ment that marked the city’s most tu­mul­tuous pe­riod since China took con­trol of the ter­ri­tory from Bri­tain in 1997.

The re­form pack­age, which needs the city’s leg­is­la­ture’s ap­proval be­fore it breaks for sum­mer in July, could fail to ob­tain the nec­es­sary two- thirds ma­jor­ity, or 47 out of 70 seats, to pass. With pro- democ­racy law­mak­ers con­trol­ling 27 seats, the gov­ern­ment is hop­ing it can per­suade four mem­bers to switch sides.

Out­lin­ing the re­form pack­age’s de­tails to law­mak­ers, Chief Sec­re­tary Car­rie Lam said that un­der the gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als, the city’s 5 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers could choose from up to three can­di­dates in 2017.

But she said the power to se­lect can­di­dates would re­main in the hands of a 1,200-mem­ber group of ty­coons and other elites viewed as sym­pa­thetic to the main­land Chi­nese gov­ern­ment. Lam said the re­forms would al­low for up to 10 nom­i­nees to be short­listed by the panel, which would then whit­tle the num­ber down to three can­di­dates through a se­cret bal­lot.

That’s in line with a blue­print Bei­jing is­sued last Aug. 31 lim­it­ing the num­ber of can­di­dates and rul­ing out open nom­i­na­tions for them. Pro-democ­racy lead­ers have blasted the re­stric­tions as “fake democ­racy.”

“The pro­posal al­lows a 'small cir­cle’ to con­trol the elec­tion re­sult by con­trol­ling the nom­i­na­tion process. Hong Kong will be­come an elec­tion ma­chine,” said law­maker Alan Leong, vow­ing that the pro-democ­racy camp would re­ject it.

He was one of about twodozen op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers, most wear­ing yel­low Xs on black shirts and some hold­ing yel­low um­brel­las — a sym­bol of the protest move­ment — who walked out of the leg­isla­tive cham­ber af­ter Lam’s speech.

There were some mi­nor scuf­fles out­side the leg­is­la­ture as prodemoc­racy pro­test­ers faced off against pro-Bei­jing demon­stra­tors wav­ing red PRC flags.

Speak­ing be­fore­hand, the city’s deeply un­pop­u­lar cur­rent leader, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying, said the gov­ern­ment would not give any ground to pro-democ­racy groups' de­mands.

“At the mo­ment, we don’t see any room for com­pro­mise,” he said, warn­ing law­mak­ers this could be the last chance in a while to change the sys­tem so they should seize it while they can.

“Launch­ing po­lit­i­cal re­form is not easy,” said Le­ung, who was hand-picked for the job by the elite panel. “If it’s ve­toed this time, I be­lieve it will be a num­ber of years be­fore we can launch it again.”

The strug­gle for Hong Kong’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture has di­vided the city and high­lighted widen­ing dif­fer­ences with its main­land masters.

Res­i­dents of Hong Kong, a Bri­tish colony for more than 150 years, feel their city is a world apart from main­land China, and more sim­i­lar to the Repub­lic of China thanks to its rule of law and guar­an­teed West­ern- style civil lib­er­ties such as free­dom of speech. Bei­jing promised to let Hong Kong re­tain con­trol of much of its own af­fairs un­der the prin­ci­ple of “one coun­try, two sys­tems” and pledged to let res­i­dents even­tu­ally elect their own leader. But the in­sis­tence on screen­ing can­di­dates un­der­scores fears about the tight­en­ing grip of the main­land’s Com­mu­nist lead­ers.


Pro-democ­racy law­maker Ronny Tong sits with plac­ards of yel­low crosses placed af­ter the law­mak­ers walk out of the leg­isla­tive cham­ber to protest against Chief Sec­re­tary Car­rie Lam who un­veiled the Bei­jing-backed elec­tion re­form pack­age’s de­tails, in Hong Kong on Wed­nes­day, April. 22.


Saudi sol­diers stand alert at the bor­der with Ye­men in Na­jran, Saudi Ara­bia, Tues­day, April 21.

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