Hong Kong vetoes Beijing plan for electoral reform

Communist Party embarrassed as ruling council votes against ‘fake democracy’

Police officers stand guard near a protest site outside the legislative council building in Hong Kong where pro-democracy lawmakers on Thursday voted down a China-backed election plan for the city that set off almost three months of protests last year. Photograph: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

Police officers stand guard near a protest site outside the legislative council building in Hong Kong where pro-democracy lawmakers on Thursday voted down a China-backed election plan for the city that set off almost three months of protests last year. Photograph: Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

 

In a show of strength that will lessen the prospect of more disruptive protests, Hong Kong’s legislative council has vetoed a Communist Party-backed electoral reform package that opposition pro-democracy lawmakers and activists saw as undemocratic.

The move is a blow for Beijing’s Communist Party, which had worked hard to pressure the territory’s pro-democracy parliamentarians to back the plan, imposed by China’s National People’s Congress last year, which envisaged only pro-Beijing candidates on the ballot when the Asian financial hub chooses its next leader in 2017.

While it is an embarrassment for Beijing, it means the next chief executive of Hong Kong will again be selected by the same panel of pro-China elites, tycoons and interest groups that has picked the leader since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule nearly 18 years ago.

“Chinese top legislature on Thursday said its decision on Hong Kong’s electoral reforms last August will remain in force in the future, despite Hong Kong legislative council’s veto of the universal suffrage motion,” ran a statement on the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Democratic

Opponents of the plan have been seeking a genuine democratic election in line with Beijing’s promise of universal suffrage made back in 1997.

It comes as a late boost to the Occupy Central protesters, who took over the streets of Hong Kong for nearly three months last year in efforts to promote more democracy.

It means the long-running tensions in Hong Kong about Beijing’s interference in the largely autonomous territory, which was a key factor in last year’s protests, are likely to be exacerbated.

The veto means that even though the current legislative council has rejected Beijing’s plan, it remains the blueprint, and now it will be seen in next year’s elections for the assembly if the package has popular support in Hong Kong.

Pro-government parliamentarians walked out of the chamber just before the vote was to take place on the planned package, which opponents labelled “fake democracy”.

The vote had taken place earlier than had been expected when only 37 of the 70 members of the council were in the chamber. Of these, 28 legislators voted against the blueprint and eight voted in favour, while one did not cast a vote.

The current chief executive Leung Chun-ying said the veto worked against the wishes of the majority of Hong Kong people, and denied them the democratic right to elect the chief executive in the next election.

“Universal suffrage for the chief executive election has now been blocked. Universal suffrage to elect all members of Legco [legislative council] has also become uncertain. I, the government and millions of Hong Kong people are disappointed,” he said.

After the veto, some of the democratic lawmakers in the council, several carrying the yellow umbrellas that were a symbol of the mass protests last year, gathered in the centre of the building and unfurled a banner calling for real universal suffrage for the territory.

Clear message

“This veto has helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing . . . that we want a genuine choice, a real election,” said pan-democratic lawmaker Alan Leong. “This is not the end of the democratic movement. This is a new beginning.”

Hong Kong is currently experiencing growing social tensions, and many believe the protests last year reflected aspects of this, including the growing wealth gap.

Hong Kong has more multimillionaires than any city on earth and is home to four of the richest men in Asia, who together are worth $80.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“Hong Kong is now a very divided society and all sides concerned should make their respective efforts to mend the divide,” said the Mr Leong.

An editorial in the Global Times, which is published by the Communist Party’s official organ, People’s Daily, said the vote was a “sad moment for Hong Kong’s progress towards democracy.

“The collective objection from the pan-democrats knocked back any hope for one-person, one-vote elections. All those who voted against the blueprint might be cocky today, but they will face the judgment of history and shoulder the responsibility eventually.

“The opposition . . . must bear in mind that they are in the minority and should not pin their hopes on dominating Hong Kong’s future.”