Hong Kong democ­racy groups rally as vote on PRC re­forms draws near

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA MANNERING AND DEN­NIS CHONG

Pro- democ­racy cam­paign­ers took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sun­day, but in far smaller num­bers than ex­pected, be­fore a vote on a po­lit­i­cal re­form pack­age that has di­vided the city and sparked mass protests.

The con­tro­ver­sial elec­toral roadmap, which lays out how Hong Kong’s next leader should be cho­sen, goes for de­bate at the leg­is­la­ture on Wed­nes­day and will be voted on by the end of the week.

It is the cul­mi­na­tion of a fraught chap­ter which saw tens of thou­sands of pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers bring parts of the city to a stand­still late last year.

Those ral­lies were sparked by a rul­ing from Bei­jing that can­di­dates in the city’s first ever public vote for its leader in 2017 must be vet­ted.

Pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers in the semi-au­ton­o­mous city have vowed to vote down the elec­tion pack­age, which sticks to Bei­jing’s rul­ing.

Cur­rently the chief ex­ec­u­tive is elected by a 1,200-strong proBei­jing com­mit­tee.

Around 3,500 peo­ple joined the march through cen­tral Hong Kong from Vic­to­ria Park to the leg­isla­tive coun­cil, or­ga­niz­ers said.

With tem­per­a­tures soar­ing to 30 de­grees Cel­sius and hu­mid­ity at al­most 80 per­cent, num­bers were well be­low or­ga­niz­ers’ hopes — they had said they ex­pected 50,000 to join.

Civic party leader Alan Leong said peo­ple had stayed at home be­cause they trusted pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers to vote down the gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal.

“Hong Kong peo­ple trust the pan-demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors will def­i­nitely veto the gov­ern­ment pro­posal,” Leong told AFP.

“Why spend a hot Sun­day un­der the sun?” he added.

Oth­ers said the low num­bers were due to protest fa­tigue.

“We have had nu­mer­ous protests in the past and some Hong Kongers may feel pow­er­less,” said Avery Ng of the League of So­cial Democrats.

“Even if the bill is ve­toed, it’s not a victory. We still don’t have real democ­racy.”

More than 10 pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers gave speeches at the leg­is­la­ture vow­ing to block the gov­ern­ment’s bill, to the cheers of pro­test­ers.

The rally ended in the early evening, more than an hour be­fore the sched­uled fin­ish.

Sun­day’s gath­er­ing is the first of a se­ries of ral­lies that ac­tivists say will take place each day un­til law­mak­ers vote on the bill.

De­spite frag­men­ta­tion in the pro-democ­racy camp all the key play­ers from last year’s protests are set to take part.

The lat­est fig­ures from one joint uni­ver­sity poll showed those against the re­form pack­age tak­ing the lead for the first time with 43 per­cent, ver­sus 41.7 in sup­port.

No Quick Fix

Marchers held plac­ards mand­ing “true uni­ver­sal desuf- frage” and yel­low um­brel­las, the sym­bol of the pro-democ­racy move­ment.

Pro­tester Carol Chow, a writer in her for­ties, said she was not dis­ap­pointed at the low turnout.

Last year’s mass protests saw spo­radic vi­o­lence, with thou­sands join­ing the demon­stra­tions af­ter po­lice fired tear gas.

With the re­form pack­age ex­pected to be blocked by pan-democrats, who have enough votes to stop it, an­a­lysts say there is lit­tle hope of a quick res­o­lu­tion to the po­lit­i­cal im­passe.

“If the Bei­jing and Hong Kong gov­ern­ments con­tinue to adopt hos­tile at­ti­tudes to­wards the op­po­si­tion, it will be dif­fi­cult for them to change the sit­u­a­tion,” said Ma Ngok, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Chi­nese Uni­ver­sity’s depart­ment of gov­ern­ment and public ad­min­is­tra­tion.

There is also pres­sure on the democ­racy move­ment, said Ma.

Hong Kong’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying urged law­mak­ers to sup­port the pro­posal Sun­day.

“If we lose the op­por­tu­nity this year, we don’t know when (the next chance for re­form will be),” he told re­porters.

AP

Peo­ple march on a down­town street in sup­port of a veto of the gov­ern­ment’s elec­toral re­form pack­age in Hong Kong on Sun­day, June 14.

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