Direct H.K. Leadership Vote Ruled Out as Opponents Vow Protests

China’s lawmakers voted for a plan to introduce universal suffrage in Hong Kong that requires leadership candidates to get the support of a nominating committee, triggering a likely showdown with pro-democracy advocates in the city who are preparing to rally tonight.

Those seeking the city’s top job in 2017 will need the support of more than half of a 1,200-member nominating committee, according to a National People’s Congress statement after the framework was approved today. The number of contenders allowed to contest the poll will be capped at two or three, it said.

Pro-democracy legislators and campaigners said the proposal doesn’t meet the standards required for universal suffrage, which China promised in 2007 to implement by 2017, because it would enable Communist Party leaders in Beijing to vet nominees through the committee. Protest groups will rally tonight outside the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and have threatened further action, including a mass sit-in intended to disrupt the city’s financial district.

“Today’s decision represents the most heart-wrenching, darkest day in Hong Kong’s history of democracy,” Ronny Tong, a Civic Party lawmaker in the city, told Hong Kong Cable TV. “The pan-democratic camp won’t negotiate. A negotiation could send the wrong signal to Beijing that the democrats are willing to accept an election with pre-screening.”

The decision represents the end of dialogue, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, co-founder of Occupy Central With Love and Peace told reporters today. The group, which has said at least 10,000 people will stage a sit-in in the financial district, will begin a series of actions today and begin the mass occupation at an unspecified date.

Suffrage Debate

The debate over the implementation of universal suffrage has divided the city of more than 7 million people, with tycoons, business groups and officials warning protests could turn violent and tarnish the city’s reputation as a global financial center.

The NPC rejected public nomination of candidates -- a demand of some groups -- as against the the city’s mini constitution known as the Basic Law, Li Fei, the NPC’s deputy secretary-general, said at a briefing in Beijing today.

The the legislation was a democratic development and failure to accept it may hurt business in the city, Li said, adding that Hong Kong it will miss development chances that “will not come again.”

Possible Veto

Li accused a small number of people of failing to recognize the central government in Beijing and planning illegal activities.

Some pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers, including Fung Kin-kee, said the proposal would be vetoed when it comes to the local legislature. To become law, the universal suffrage bill will require two-thirds of Hong Kong’s 70-member legislature to support it, meaning the legislation could be halted by the 27 opposition members.

The chief executive election amendment is “a step backward” as it’s now stricter than before,’’ the Civic Party’s Tong said.

If the proposal is vetoed, Hong Kong will continue to have its leader picked by a 1,200-member election committee.

Maria Tam, a Hong Kong delegate to the NPC, said in Beijing that chief executive candidates must get more than half of the nomination committee’s vote because it has to be a “corporate decision that follows the principle that the majority rules.”

Nominating Committee

The NPC decision states that the nominating committee will be “broadly representative” and its composition will follow that of the 2012 Election Committee that selected Hong Kong’s current leader, a body that pro-democrats criticized as being stacked with Hong Kong’s business and political elite.

Almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum organized by pro-democracy activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace in June 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, while an anti-Occupy Central march on Aug. 17 attracted about 88,000, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong.

Screening of candidates is necessary to safeguard the interests of business groups to protect the city’s capitalist economy, Wang Zhenmin, a legal scholar who advises the Chinese government on Hong Kong matters, said Aug. 28 at an event organized by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

— With assistance by Fion Li, and Xin Zhou

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