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