Law­mak­ers in Hong Kong re­ject elec­tion frame­work

The de­feat of Bei­jing’s pro­posal leaves the Chi­nese ter­ri­tory back where it started.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Julie Maki­nen and Vi­o­let Law julie.maki­ Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Law re­ported from Hong Kong and Times staff writer Maki­nen from Bei­jing. Ni­cole Liu and Har­vard Zhang in The Times’ Bei­jing bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

HONG KONG — “No to Fake Democ­racy!” “We Want Real Elec­tions!” “Have Our Say on Our Own Des­tiny!”

When tens of thou­sands of de­mon­stra­tors took to the streets here last fall, an­gry about rules pro­posed by Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers in Bei­jing for Hong Kong’s 2017 elec­tion, those were three of the main ral­ly­ing cries. Printed on fliers and hoisted aloft on ban­ners, they be­came mantras of the crowds who riled Chi­nese of­fi­cials and cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion.

On Thurs­day, more than six months af­ter po­lice swept the last hold­outs from their en­camp­ments around gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters in this semi­au­tonomous ter­ri­tory of 7.3 mil­lion, one of those de­mands was fi­nally met.

Hong Kong’s Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil voted 28 to 8, with 34 law­mak­ers miss­ing in ac­tion, to re­ject the elec­tion rules drafted by Bei­jing, the “fake democ­racy” so ab­horred by the de­mon­stra­tors.

It re­mains to be seen whether Thurs­day’s vote will lend mo­men­tum to the cam­paign for gen­uine democ­racy in Hong Kong or stall the move­ment and prompt sterner mea­sures from Chi­nese lead­ers.

“Even though there’s no progress on democ­racy, at least we didn’t take a step back,” said Dixon Ming Sing, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of so­cial science at the Hong Kong Univer­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy.

But Car­rie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief sec­re­tary, who had been re­spon­si­ble for shep­herd­ing the pro­posal through the leg­is­la­ture, warned that the out­come would cast a long shadow. “I can’t be­gin to pre­dict when elec­toral re­form will be back on track ever again,” she said.

Hong Kong, a for­mer Bri­tish colony, re­turned to Chi­nese sovereignty in 1997 via an ar­range­ment known as “one coun­try, two sys­tems.” The ter­ri­tory was al­lowed to keep its own English-based le­gal sys­tem and a wide range of civil lib­er­ties and was granted “a high de­gree of au­ton­omy” for 50 years un­der a mini-con­sti­tu­tion known as the Ba­sic Law.

An “ul­ti­mate aim” en­shrined in the Ba­sic Law was the se­lec­tion of Hong Kong’s top leader, the chief ex­ec­u­tive, “by uni­ver­sal suf­frage” and “in ac­cor­dance with demo­cratic pro­ce­dures.” Can­di­dates, it said, would be nom­i­nated by a “broadly rep­re­sen­ta­tive” com­mit­tee.

Party lead­ers in Bei­jing re­peat­edly said the elec­tion frame­work put for­ward last sum­mer by the stand­ing com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress was China’s best of­fer of democ­racy for Hong Kongers.

The frame­work would have al­lowed Hong Kong’s 5 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers for the first time to cast bal­lots di­rectly for the ter­ri­tory’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. But it would have lim­ited their choice to two or three can­di­dates ap­proved by a nom­i­nat­ing com­mit­tee stacked with proestab­lish­ment fig­ures.

The de­mon­stra­tors who took to the streets in what be­came known as the Um­brella Move­ment de­manded that Bei­jing back down and of­fer vot­ers a “gen­uine” choice of can­di­dates. But af­ter 10 weeks of sit-ins, clashes with po­lice and one brief round of di­a­logue be­tween Hong Kong lead­ers and protest or­ga­niz­ers, no conces- sions were forth­com­ing.

That left Hong Kong leg­is­la­tors to vote on the pack­age set forth by Bei­jing. Their rejection means that, in ef­fect, Hong Kong is back where it started: In the 2017 elec­tion, the chief ex­ec­u­tive will con­tinue to be cho­sen by a 1,200-mem­ber com­mit­tee dom­i­nated by pro-Bei­jing loy­al­ists.

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

Michael Davis, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, said that although such sur­veys sug­gest a city di­vided nearly evenly, many of those who backed the bill did not like it but hoped it would lead to greater change down the line.

The pro­posal had been widely ex­pected to be de­feated be­cause a bloc of 27 leg­is­la­tors known as the pan-democrats had enough votes to veto the pack­age, which re­quired a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the 70-seat Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil for ap­proval.

But the ac­tual tally turned out to be a sur­prise. A group of pro-Bei­jing law­mak­ers had left the room in an at­tempt to de­lay the vote but ended up miss­ing the chance to par­tic­i­pate. That led to the lop­sided re­sults.

In a late-af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence, Hong Kong Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying said that the public had been de­nied the right to uni­ver­sal suf­frage, leav­ing “mil­lions of Hong Kong peo­ple gravely dis­ap­pointed.” He said the gov­ern­ment had worked hard to forge con­sen­sus, but now it was “time to move on.”

In the next two years, he said, the gov­ern­ment will fo­cus on eco­nomic and liveli­hood is­sues, key griev­ances seen as un­der­pin­ning the 2014 protests.

Davis called Thurs­day’s vote “a dis­as­ter” for Le­ung’s Bei­jing-backed ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“What­ever ex­cuse the pro-es­tab­lish­ment politi­cians of­fer, they es­sen­tially gave a re­sound­ing ‘no’ vote to the gov­ern­ment’s bill,” he said. “The gov­ern­ment will have to ex­plain how a year of ef­fort and sub­mis­sion to Bei­jing on its part pro­duced only eight sup­port­ing votes.”

A spokesman for the State Coun­cil’s Hong Kong and Main­land Af­fairs Of­fice called the nay vot­ers “self­ish” and said the re­sults were “a de­par­ture from main­stream opin­ion and from what the cen­tral gov­ern­ment wanted to see.”

Jason Y. Ng, a Hong Kong at­tor­ney and au­thor who is work­ing on a book about last year’s protests, said the main ques­tion now is whether a strong leader will emerge to pick up the man­tle of the pro-democ­racy move­ment.

Many of the stu­dent ac­tivists who led last fall’s move­ment have been keep­ing a lower pro­file in re­cent months, and the Hong Kong Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dents, which was at the vanguard of the demon­stra­tions, has frac­tured. Quite a few protesters, Ng said, are crit­i­cal of what they see as poor de­ci­sions made dur­ing the fi­nal weeks of the protests.

Within the leg­is­la­ture, some pan-demo­cratic law­mak­ers have in­di­cated that they may not run for re­elec­tion.

The vote on the 2017 elec­tion rules isn’t the first time that Hong Kongers have suc­cess­fully pushed back against poli­cies backed by Bei­jing. Protests in 2003 forced of­fi­cials to set aside con­sid­er­a­tion of a con­tentious anti-sedi­tion bill; in 2012, de­mon­stra­tors against a na­tional ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum suc­ceeded in scut­tling that pro­posal.

But the fight over the 2017 elec­tion frame­work was the deep­est act of de­fi­ance yet. With main­land author­i­ties in­sist­ing that the vet­ting of can­di­dates for chief ex­ec­u­tive was jus­ti­fied and nec­es­sary as a mat­ter of na­tional se­cu­rity, many Hong Kongers came to re­al­ize that “one coun­try” would al­ways trump “two sys­tems.”

“Now we can see the ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ prom­ise is bank­rupt,” said Joshua Wong, the stu­dent leader who be­came the face of the Um­brella Move­ment. “We used to pre­sume the hu­man rights con­di­tion in China would catch up with ours in 50 years — at least that still was our fan­tasy even into re­cent years.”

Ng said he be­lieves Hong Kong will see more protests and acts of civil dis­obe­di­ence be­cause the con­cerns and frus­tra­tions that un­der­pinned de­mands for more rep­re­sen­ta­tive gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing a yawn­ing gap be­tween rich and poor, sky­high real es­tate costs and huge num­bers of main­land tourists, re­main un­ad­dressed and un­re­solved.

“We are all wait­ing for the next spark. It’s like there is a gas leak in the city, and all it takes is a spark for the house to blow up,” he said. “All the frus­tra­tions and pent-up anger will come to a head.”

Philippe Lopez AFP/Getty Im­ages

CHIEF EX­EC­U­TIVE Le­ung Chun-ying said Hong Kongers had been de­nied the right to uni­ver­sal suf­frage. The vote out­come means the chief ex­ec­u­tive will be cho­sen by a com­mit­tee dom­i­nated by pro-Bei­jing loy­al­ists.

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