Hong Kong’s law­mak­ers de­bate elec­tion frame­work

A plan to change how the ter­ri­tory’s leader is cho­sen is up for a vote this week.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Vi­o­let Law and Julie Maki­nen julie.maki­nen@latimes.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Law re­ported from Hong Kong and Times staff writer Maki­nen from Bei­jing.

HONG KONG — Leg­is­la­tors in this semi­au­tonomous Chi­nese ter­ri­tory of 7 mil­lion be­gan de­bate Wed­nes­day on a con­tro­ver­sial plan to over­haul Hong Kong elec­tion rules that sparked mass protests in the city last year.

Bar­ring any last-minute side-switch­ing, the pro­posal ap­peared to be headed for de­feat, but the the­atrics were any­thing but muted.

In the cham­ber, leg­is­la­tors used props, in­clud­ing large car­toons, to il­lus­trate their points and quoted Scrip­ture and Shake­speare to bol­ster their ar­gu­ments.

“To be, or not to be. To kow­tow, or to veto. This is the dilemma Bei­jing has put us in with an elec­toral frame­work that of­fers Hong Kongers no real choice,” said Alan Leong, leader of the pro-democ­racy Civic Party. “I won’t wa­ver; I’ll cast my ‘no’ vote. This is a vote that will live up to the history and the prom­ise of our demo­cratic move­ment.”

Un­der a scorch­ing sun, hun­dreds of sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the bill gath­ered out­side gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters in the Ad­mi­ralty dis­trict.

Ac­tivists who have de­rided the plan as “fake uni- ver­sal suf­frage” sat on paving stones, cor­ralled by me­tal bar­ri­ers sep­a­rat­ing them from their more vo­cif­er­ous op­po­si­tion.

“We’re here to do our share. We plan to sit here till it’s over,” said Peter Ng, 58, a re­tired prop­erty man­ager who came with his wife, Ophe­lia, and was sit­ting among a group of stu­dents.

Law­mak­ers are de­bat­ing a pro­posed frame­work drafted by author­i­ties in Bei­jing for Hong Kong’s next elec­tion for chief ex­ec­u­tive in 2017.

Hong Kong, a for­mer Bri­tish colony, re­turned to Chi­nese sovereignty in 1997 un­der an ar­range­ment known as “one coun­try, two sys­tems.”

The elec­tion frame­work would, for the first time, al­low Hong Kong cit­i­zens to cast bal­lots di­rectly for the ter­ri­tory’s top leader, but would limit their choice to two or three can­di­dates en­dorsed by a screen­ing panel ex­pected to be com­posed mainly of pro-Bei­jing mem­bers.

Un­til now, the chief ex­ec­u­tive has been cho­sen by a 1,200-mem­ber com­mit­tee.

Crit­ics say that would give Hong Kong only the ve­neer of democ­racy, while sup­port­ers ar­gue the plan is a step in the right di­rec­tion. If the pro­posal goes down to de­feat, the chief ex­ec­u­tive will con­tinue to be elected by the 1,200-mem­ber com­mit­tee, and prospects for any fur­ther changes to Hong Kong’s elec­toral sys­tem in the near fu­ture would ap­pear un­likely.

In the run-up to the vote, now ex­pected to take place Thurs­day or Fri­day, some groups op­posed to the frame­work have or­ga­nized sev­eral night ral­lies around the main gov­ern­ment com­plex. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple massed there last fall in un­prece­dented street demon­stra­tions that lasted 10 weeks and an­gered com­mu­nist lead­ers in Bei­jing.

For the frame­work to be im­ple­mented, Hong Kong’s Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil must vote to adopt it. But a bloc of leg­is­la­tors known as the pan-democrats has vowed to block its pas­sage, and the group ap­pears to have the num­bers to do so.

A re­cent poll showed 47% of Hong Kongers en­dors­ing the Bei­jing-pro­posed frame­work, with 38% op­pos­ing and 15% un­de­cided.

Hun­dreds of po­lice of­fi­cers were de­ployed in and around the gov­ern­ment com­plex.

On Mon­day, author­i­ties an­nounced they had ar­rested 10 peo­ple in a pos­si­ble bomb plot, though it was un­clear whether there was any con­nec­tion to this week’s vote in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil.

De­mon­stra­tors sup­port­ing the elec­toral pro­posal on Wed­nes­day used speak­ers to broad­cast a bar­rage of pro­nounce­ments, prac­ti­cally drown­ing out the au­dio feed of leg­is­la­tors’ speeches that was be­ing played out­side.

“These peo­ple are an­ar­chists,” said Man Yu-ming, a lo­cal coun­cil mem­ber.

Kin Cheung As­so­ci­ated Press

AN AD­VO­CATE of the pro-Bei­jing elec­tion frame­work sprays wa­ter at a prodemoc­racy demon­stra­tor, right, out­side the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil in Hong Kong.

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