HK Protest Leaders Seek Lawmakers’ Aid to Boost Pressure

Leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests are turning to sympathetic legislators in their push for unfettered elections as prospects dim for more dialogue with the city’s government.

Pro-democracy lawmakers are considering resigning from the Legislative Council, forcing by-elections that would serve as a proxy vote on constitutional reform, according to Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

Chow’s group was one of at least three that first took to the streets in September after Beijing’s Aug. 31 decision that candidates for the city’s top post be vetted by a nominating committee, angering activists who say the mechanism will guarantee a pro-China chief executive. Talks between student leaders and the government on Oct. 21 failed to end the impasse.

“We haven’t heard from the government since,” Chow said in an interview yesterday. “The middlemen are not even working any longer. If they cannot give us anything concrete, then our job is to rethink the next step of the movement.”

The by-election will give the pro-democracy movement a fresh impetus to add supporters when politicians campaign in their districts, Chow said. “If we want to take the movement to another stage, we cannot simply focus on the Occupy protest areas, we have to go back to the community,” he said.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam’s press officer Andy Lam couldn’t immediately be reached for comment yesterday evening.

Two Options

Two options are being discussed, either of which would trigger a citywide by-election, pro-democracy Legislative Council member Alan Leong, leader of the Civic Party, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Pro-democracy parties have 27 seats in the 70-member legislature.

Either pro-democracy lawmakers would resign from Hong Kong’s five electoral districts, or one legislator specially elected from among neighborhood councilors would quit, Leong said. Hong Kong doesn’t have a referendum law, so a by-election is one way to have a de facto plebiscite, Leong said.

Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang said he doesn’t see the point of such resignations and doesn’t want them to happen, according to a Cable Television report.

Student leaders are also considering turning up the pressure by trying to send representatives to Beijing to seek direct talks with officials during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit starting next week, Chow told protesters at Admiralty on Oct. 30.

Protesters’ Demands

Chow’s group on Oct. 28 called on Chief Secretary Lam to submit a report to China reflecting their demands for free elections, including a reversal of the Aug. 31 decision, as a condition for further talks. Failing which, they would like to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

In previous talks, the government told students that the 2017 elections were just the start of the democratic process and that further reforms were possible.

“It’s simple,” Chow said yesterday. “If you couldn’t endorse anything right now, then show us the timetable.”

Laura Cha, an HSBC Holdings Plc board member, said yesterday she regrets causing concern wit earlier comments drawing parallels between the demonstrators in Hong Kong and U.S. slaves.

“American slaves were liberated in 1861 but did not get voting rights until 107 years later, so why can’t Hong Kong wait for a while?” Cha, who also serves on the city’s cabinet, the Executive Council, said at an Oct. 29 event in Paris to promote Hong Kong, the Standard newspaper reported.

My “comment on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act was by way of example that every country’s path to democracy was evolved in its own historical context,” Cha said in an e-mailed response to questions. I “did not mean any disrespect.”

HSBC has no comment on the Hong Kong protest movement, spokesman Gareth Hewett said by e-mail.

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