Chinese parliament crushes hopes for greater democracy in Hong Kong

Activists pledge campaign of civil disobedience

Pro-democracy protesters hold up their mobile phones during a campaign to kick off the Occupy Central civil disobedience event in front of the financial Central district in Hong Kong yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Pro-democracy protesters hold up their mobile phones during a campaign to kick off the Occupy Central civil disobedience event in front of the financial Central district in Hong Kong yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Bobby Yip

 

China’s parliament said it will tightly control the nomination of candidates for 2017 elections in Hong Kong, dashing hopes of greater democracy and raising the prospect of a campaign of civil disobedience there.

Under the terms of the handover of the former crown colony to mainland China in 1997, Hong Kong was supposed to allow its citizens to pick its top official, the chief executive, starting in 2017.

However, a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing said it had endorsed a framework to let only two or three candidates run in a 2017 vote for the territory’s chief executive.

Pro-Beijing stalwarts

Veteran democracy activist Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, accused the central government in Beijing of “cheating” Hongkongers of democracy.

“They are moving the goal posts again,” Mr Lee told a gathering of thousands in Tamar Park outside the office of the chief executive. Heavy rain fell and there was tight security in the financial hub.

“Beijing can now select the candidates, puppets of course . . . two to three, they say. But what’s the difference between a rotten orange, rotten apple and a rotten banana? We want genuine universal suffrage not democracy with Chinese characteristics,” said Mr Lee, as demonstrators held their mobile phones aloft with the flashlight function on, creating a sea of light.

Thousands of “Occupy Central” activists, who want genuine elections, are threatening to blockade the city’s business district in retaliation. Benny Tai, leader of Occupy Central, declared “a new era of civil disobedience” for Hong Kong, without saying when the campaign of occupation would take place.

“I know many people are here out of frustration. But we should not. Why? It’s because we see hope,” Mr Tai said. “Look at the person sitting next to you. That person will be occupying Central with you!”

The NPC held a special meeting in the Great Hall of the People to discuss the issue and hailed the move as a breakthrough for universal suffrage and democratic reform.

The Communist Party said in a statement that the 2017 leadership poll would filter out any candidates it deemed unsuitable.

Universal suffrage

Support for the Occupy Central movement primarily comes from students and long-term democracy activists, and many middle-class Hong Kong people are worried about the possible effect on business that civil disobedience could cause.

They are also anxious about antagonising China, which has done much to ensure the prosperity of Hong Kong by promoting trade and economic partnership.

However, the relatively tough decision from Beijing may galvanise support for the democracy movement among the middle classes and spark renewed calls for greater representation for Hong Kong.

There were plenty of eyebrows raised last week when Wang Zhenmin, the head of Tsinghua Law School in Beijing, said democracy in Hong Kong must be limited in order to protect the interests of its capitalist class.