Hong Kong Government Says City Wants Committee to Vet Leader

Hong Kong’s government said a public consultation showed a majority wanted candidates for the city’s next leader to be nominated by a committee, contrary to demands made by protesters who have threatened to hold mass sit-ins.

The majority of views expressed in the five-month consultation said candidates must also be a person “who loves the country and loves Hong Kong,” the government said in its report published today. 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, it said, adding the system must not be bypassed.

“We should use courage and wisdom to reach consensus on reform,” Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told lawmakers today when she presented the report. “We shouldn’t waste time on proposals that aren’t practical in the legal framework.”

The report may spark the city’s biggest political upheaval since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, after almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum last month against China’s insistence it vet candidates through a committee. Activist group Occupy Central With Love and Peace has said it plans mass sit-ins at the city’s financial district if the reforms don’t meet international standards for a democratic election, which it says includes allowing the public to nominate candidates.

The city saw its biggest rally in a decade on July 1, the anniversary of its return to China, as protesters marched to demand democracy.

‘More Protests’

“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 today. 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.

Public Nomination

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.

“There’s still room for us to fight for true democracy,” Lee Cheuk Yan, chairman of the Labor Party and a lawmaker, said on television today. “The door hasn’t been closed yet but we are worried the NPC will shut the door on behalf of the Hong Kong government. It’s time for us to be united and voice out.”

Legco Elections

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.

“The community generally agrees that successful implementation of universal suffrage for the CE election in 2017 will bring about positive impact on policy implementation, economy, and livelihood matters in Hong Kong in the future,” Leung said in his report.

Legislative Election

There is no a 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.

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.

Today, the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners published an advertisement against the movement.

The probability of an Occupy Central protest is rising, with it likely to happen in August, Adrienne Lui, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Citigroup, wrote in a report yesterday. Disruptions to the business district will likely be brief with the police taking no more than a day to clear protesters, Lui wrote.

Still, “businesses and investors are increasingly building in a higher perception of operational risks in Hong Kong,” Lui wrote in the report.

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