Po­lit­i­cal show­down in Hong Kong ahead of key re­form vote

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DENNIS CHONG

Hong Kong law­mak­ers laid bare the city’s en­trenched po­lit­i­cal di­vide Wed­nes­day as they locked horns over a re­form pack­age ahead of a key vote that pits democ­racy cam­paign­ers against the gov­ern­ment.

Their de­bate on the Bei­jing­backed elec­toral roadmap will end in a vote later this week, mark­ing the cul­mi­na­tion of a fraught chap­ter which saw tens of thou­sands of protesters take to the streets last year.

Pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers are widely ex­pected to unite against the bill, deny­ing it the two thirds ma­jor­ity it needs to pass.

But few in the op­po­si­tion camp say that will be a vic­tory as they are bit­terly dis­ap­pointed not to have won any con­ces­sions.

Although the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment’s plan would for the first time give all res­i­dents the right to vote for the chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2017, it ad­heres to a Bei­jing rul­ing that can­di­dates must be vet­ted by a loy­al­ist com­mit­tee.

The pro­posal is de­rided as “fake democ­racy” by op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers and cam­paign­ers.

Author­i­ties in semi-au­ton­o­mous Hong Kong have said re­peat­edly they can­not di­verge from Bei­jing’s rul­ing last Au­gust, which sparked weeks of mass ral­lies and road block­ades that brought parts of the city to a stand­still.

A front-page ed­i­to­rial in China’s Peo­ple’s Daily, the Com­mu­nist Party’s mouth­piece, urged law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day to pass the bill, say­ing “so­cial chaos” could en­sue oth­er­wise.

Hong Kong’s deputy leader Car­rie Lam warned any re­forms would be off the ta­ble if the pack­age was blocked as she kicked off the de­bate Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Pro-Bei­jing law­maker Regina Ip, a for­mer se­cu­rity min­is­ter, said re­ject­ing the pack­age would be “a great loss.”

But pan-democrats blasted the plan, with one liken­ing it to in­fested fruit.

“Let us show the world that we are not fools. We will not buy into such delu­sions for the sake of a quiet life,” said Civic Party law­maker Claudia Mo.

Mo said ac­cept­ing the pro­posal in the hope that Bei­jing would later soften its stance was like “pock­et­ing a mag­goty ap­ple.”

Civic Party leader Alan Leong also tore into the Bei­jing author­i­ties.

“What the cen­tral gov­ern­ment is forc­ing Hong Kong peo­ple to ac­cept is not only a re­form pack­age but also an at­ti­tude to blindly con­form... it’s a scam,” he said.

Pro-democ­racy law­mak­ers sat in the leg­isla­tive coun­cil with mul­ti­col­ored plac­ards marked with a cross to sig­nal their in­ten­tion to re­ject the bill.

City at a Cross­roads

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Sonny Lo called the vote “a crit­i­cal junc­ture” and said the bill was un­likely to pass due to the pan-democrats’ pledge.

That paves the way for a fur­ther schism be­tween Hong Kong and Bei­jing, he said.

The at­mos­phere re­mained calm out­side the leg­is­la­ture Wed­nes­day evening where around 200 protesters from both sides gath­ered as the de­bate was played on loud­speak­ers.

“The pro-gov­ern­ment side has not re­ally lis­tened to the peo­ple of Hong Kong or the pan democrats ... all they say is to just take what is given,” said pro­tester Vic­tor Or, 21, a re­cent grad­u­ate.

Oth­ers said it was time to find mid­dle ground.

Po­lice pa­trolled the leg­isla­tive build­ing as se­cu­rity was stepped up af­ter an al­leged plot which saw 10 peo­ple ar­rested Sun­day and Mon­day and six charged with con­spir­ing to make ex­plo­sives.

Five were re­manded in cus­tody af­ter ap­pear­ing in court Wed­nes­day and the oth­ers have been re- leased on bail.

Po­lice have said one of the 10 had claimed to be a mem­ber of a “rad­i­cal lo­cal group,” although some lo­cal ac­tivists are skep­ti­cal.

AP

A pro-democ­racy pro­tester hold­ing a yel­low um­brella at­tends a rally out­side the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil in Hong Kong, Wed­nes­day, June 17.

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