Hong Kong may be set for a summer of discontent after a government report backed limits to the 2017 election of its leader, contrary to the demands made by protesters in the city’s biggest political rally in a decade.
The majority of views expressed in a five-month public consultation said candidates for the 2017 chief executive election must be nominated by a committee and be Chinese patriots, the government said in a report published yesterday. The report doesn’t reflect the views of those who marched on July 1 and the almost 800,000 people who voted in an unofficial referendum last month, according to Emily Lau, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.
“Public opinion has been distorted” in the report, Lau said by phone yesterday. “It doesn’t clearly communicate the demands of all the people who took part in the July 1 protest and referendum and this may send a wrong message to Beijing.”
The report, which is in line with China’s demands, may spark the city’s biggest political upheaval since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Activist group Occupy Central With Love and Peace has said it plans mass sit-ins at the city’s financial district if the 2017 election doesn’t meet international standards, which it says includes allowing the public to nominate candidates.
The government consultation “isn’t ideal but it doesn’t trigger immediate action,” said Benny Tai, an associate law professor and one of the leaders of Occupy Central. “We’re watching the next step. When it comes to the point where there’s absolutely no chances of achieving the dreams of a true democracy, then we’ll take action.”
Almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum organized by Occupy Central last month against China’s insistence that candidates be vetted through a committee. As many as 172,000 people marched to push for democracy on July 1, according to an estimate by the University of Hong Kong.
Mainstream opinion agrees the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution, has made clear that only the nomination committee has a “substantive power” to put forward candidates, the government report said, adding the system must not be bypassed. The majority view is also that candidates must be a person “who loves the country and loves Hong Kong.”
“The major conclusions are likely to spur more protests,” Ma Ngok, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said by phone. The consultation indicated there is little room for negotiation and would likely drive the moderate members of the pro-democracy movement toward the radical groups “because there is not much hope in getting a more democratic system,” he said.
The proposal has been submitted to China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which will decide on the election methods, the official Xinhua News Agency said yesterday. The Hong Kong government will conduct a second public consultation by the end of the year, before Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying submits the final plan to lawmakers for a vote.
“The one bright spot is that public nomination hasn’t completely been quelled,” said Johnson Yeung, spokesman of Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the rally on July 1. “This shows direct actions by citizens can pressure the government. If we continue to press, it’s possible we can achieve genuine democracy.”
Some protests and movements will continue ahead of the National People’s Congress decision, likely to come in August, he said.
Occupy Central activists and pro-democracy lawmakers have said the 2017 election should allow for public nomination of candidates, an option rejected by China as against the city’s de facto constitution. Failing which, Occupy Central may hold a 10,000-strong sit in, though the group has said it won’t resort to the action until all legal channels to push its case have been exhausted.
“The report hasn’t clearly stated how much weight is given to the views expressed in the civil referendum and the July 1 march,” said Cheung Chor-yung, a senior teaching fellow in public administration at City University of Hong Kong.
Public unrest in Hong Kong has worsened in the past month after the Chinese government published a white paper in June spelling out tighter control. The paper said a “patriot” must serve as chief executive and that the city’s autonomy, stated in the 1997 handover agreement, is bestowed by China.
China today lodged a formal diplomatic protest to the U.K. over the meeting of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire with Hong Kong’s opposition activists, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website.
“Since the handover in 1997, the practice of ‘one country two systems’ has achieved world-wide recognized success,” the statement cites Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying. “Hong Kong issues are purely China’s domestic affairs. The Chinese government opposes interference of any external forces by any excuses. The U.K. action is an interference of China’s domestic affairs. China expresses strong dissatisfaction.”
Among the 124,700 written opinions received, the majority thinks the nomination committee should retain its current composition, which is formed by four sectors with equal number of members, the government said. The committee, composed mainly of lawmakers, professional groups and business leaders, has previously selected the city’s leader.
A number of the submitted views want the committee to remain at 1,200 people, while some have advocated for it to increase to 1,600, according to the report.
There is no need to amend the electoral methods for the next legislative council, Leung said. That means half of the 70-member council will be selected through direct elections, with the rest chosen by business groups and associations representing so-called functional constituencies.
At stake is the stability that underpins Hong Kong’s position as a financial center. The police arrested more than 500 people for illegal gathering and traffic obstruction the morning after the July 1 rally following a sit-in by demonstrators on Chater Road in the business district.
“There’s a chance that we will stage civil disobedience in mid-August to give pressure to the National People’s Congress,” said Chow Wing-hong, spokesman for the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the group which organized the sit-in. “We haven’t come up with what kind of civil disobedience we would stage yet, but it’s time to start some preparations.”
Accounting firms including KPMG LLP and Deloitte LLP, the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association, the Canadian, Indian and Italian chambers of commerce and Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing are among those who’ve said civil disobedience tactics will paralyze the city, drive away tourists and companies, and damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial center.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tan Hwee Ann at email@example.com Greg Ahlstrand, Neil Western