Thousands of people took to Hong Kong’s streets today demanding the city’s government introduce full democracy with international standards in the next election for its leader in 2017.
About 6,100 protesters participated in a march from Victoria Park in the Causeway Bay district to government headquarters near the Central financial district, according to Hong Kong police estimates. The Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the approximately 5-kilometer (3-mile) march, had not disclosed its estimate as of 6:20 p.m. local time.
Opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, are calling for full-fledged democracy and civic groups have threatened demonstrations in Central next July unless political reforms are accelerated. Li Fei, deputy secretary-general of China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said in November that candidates for the city’s chief executive must be vetted by a committee and the position must be “filled by a patriot.”
“I am here to demand universal suffrage, real universal suffrage,” Petty Ng, a housewife who took part in the march, said in an interview. “You just need to see how the three previous chief executives performed, then you realize we really need democracy. Each one was worse than their predecessor.”
The Hong Kong government started a five-month consultation in December to gather public opinion on the reform process. It’s focused on the nomination procedures for the elections, including the composition of a committee that will pick the candidates, according to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.
Occupy Central, an activist group, is conducting a poll today to seek opinions on the process.
The government pledged in a statement today to summarize and consolidate “faithfully” any views and suggestions made by Hong Kongers during the consultation period.
Leung, who took over as Hong Kong’s leader in July 2012, was elected by a 1,193-member committee comprising mostly billionaires, lawmakers and business leaders. Since taking office, his popularity has hovered near a record low amid scandals involving members of his cabinet and public outcry over his policies in areas as diverse as education and the issuance of television broadcasting licenses.
A University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme survey conducted Dec. 3-5 showed Leung’s support rating at 42 on a scale of 0 to 100.
China’s President Xi Jinping said Hong Kong must follow its constitution in implementing democratic reforms, Leung said in October after a meeting between the two leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia.