News / Asia

    Hong Kong, Beijing Consider New Reality After Pro-Democracy Referendum

    Hong Kong and Chinese officials and lawmakers are considering how to deal with a new political reality in which almost 800,000 Hong Kong residents made an unprecedented show of support for greater democracy by participating in an unofficial referendum.

    Occupy Central With Love and Peace, a movement of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists who organized the 10-day referendum that ended Sunday, said 792,000 citizens cast valid ballots. The vast majority of them used Internet and mobile phone, though several thousand cast paper ballots at polling stations. Hong Kong had approximately 3.5 million regisered voters in 2012, according to The Guardian.

    In another pro-democracy demonstration, more than 100,000 people joined an annual July 1 march through Hong Kong’s streets on Tuesday to call for the ability to freely choose the territory’s next leader, or chief executive. Police arrested at least 500 protesters on charges of unlawful assembly for holding a sit-in on a street next to the government headquarters after the march.

    In the first-of-its-kind referendum, Occupy Central asked residents whether they supported one of three proposed electoral reforms that would allow the public to nominate candidates for the city's next leadership election in 2017.

    Voters also were asked whether Hong Kong's 70-seat Legislative Council, or LegCo, should veto any government plan that does not satisfy "international standards allowing genuine choices by electors."

    Beijing has said the autonomous Chinese territory can choose its chief executive under a system of universal suffrage for the first time in the 2017 election. But, it says the nomination of candidates must conform to the city's constitution, or Basic Law, which gives nominating powers to a "nominating committee" rather than directly to voters. Hong Kong's government has said it must abide by that requirement.

    Analyzing referendum

    Referendum organizers say the most popular proposal for nominating chief executive candidates came from a coalition of 26 of the city's 27 pro-democracy lawmakers. The Alliance for True Democracy plan, backed by about 42 percent of the voters, says the right to nominate candidates should be given to members of the public and established political parties as well as the committee.

    People vote at a polling station during Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on democratic reforms in Hong Kong June 29, 2014.People vote at a polling station during Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on democratic reforms in Hong Kong June 29, 2014.
    x
    People vote at a polling station during Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on democratic reforms in Hong Kong June 29, 2014.
    People vote at a polling station during Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on democratic reforms in Hong Kong June 29, 2014.

    Occupy Central activists also say about 88 percent of referendum voters want LegCo to veto any government proposal that does not allow for the perceived "genuine choices" of chief executive candidates.

    Political scientist Scott Harold of the U.S.-based research group RAND Corp. says the large referendum turnout is significant.

    "What it shows is that the population of Hong Kong is increasingly politically active and disposed to expect a role in their own governance," Harold said.

    Longtime Hong Kong-based journalist Francis Moriarty says people voted to show their unhappiness not only about the government's position on constitutional development, but also on other matters.

    "People are displeased with the government's plans for using Hong Kong's finite land resources, and they don't like a number of people who form the government. Some of them are extremely unpopular," Moriarty said.

    He said many people also voted to express their objection to China's June 10 publication of a “white paper” policy statement about Hong Kong's rights and obligations as an autonomous region under Beijing's sovereign control. It was the first such document published since Hong Kong's 1997 handover from Britain to China.

    "The white paper included a lot of things that everybody already knows," Moriarty said. "But, it also was written in a way to say, 'At the end of the day, we (the Chinese government) are the source of Hong Kong's existence, we hold all the cards, we've got the power, and if you're unhappy and there's unrest, we also have the People's Liberation Army.’”

    He said another factor that appears to have boosted the referendum turnout is a series of cyberattacks on the website that hosted the vote. The attacks prompted organizers to extend voting from three to 10 days. Pro-democracy activists blamed hackers backed by the Chinese government.

    Moriarty said the 88 percent vote in favor of a LegCo veto “was an overwhelming vote saying that if the government's reform plan doesn't walk like a democracy and talk like a democracy, we don't want it."

    Despite the referendum’s successes, Hong Kong's pan-democratic movement remains divided about what to do next.

    Uncertain aftermath

    One of Hong Kong's two main pro-democracy factions in LegCo, the Democratic Party, backed the winning referendum proposal as a member of the Alliance for True Democracy. But when the vote ended, party leaders followed through on a threat to quit the coalition because of years of verbal attacks on the party by radical alliance members.

    Other pro-democracy figures, such as Hong Kong's former No. 2 official, Anson Chan, have called for more modest election reforms that would not allow voters to directly nominate a candidate, but would let them vote for some members of the nominating committee.

    Occupy Central also has threatened a civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong's Central business district if eventual government reform proposals do not satisfy its demands. But it is not clear when such a campaign might begin.

    Chinese state media have ridiculed the referendum as a farce and warned that it will not bring about greater democracy for Hong Kong. Senior Chinese officials made no immediate public comment on the results.

    How will China proceed?

    The RAND Corp.’s Harold said Chinese leaders have been trying to intimidate Hong Kong. "But instead, they are finding that they only have incentivized Hong Kong citizens to stand up more for their rights."

    He said the Chinese government may shift its strategy.

    "In the past, when Hong Kongers showed a strong and united position on an issue, such as opposition to Beijing-backed national security legislation in 2003, Chinese leaders made adjustments,” Harold said. “It is possible that Beijing will do this again."

    The Hong Kong government scrapped plans for the national security legislation after a July 2003 protest by half a million people who feared the measure would erode their civil liberties.

    Hong Kong's current No. 2 official, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, said the government will take note of the opinions expressed in this month's referendum. But, she also reiterated her position that electoral changes must comply with the basic law.

    Reform plan expected

    The Hong Kong government is expected to present its reform plan to Legco in the coming months. The bill must win two-thirds approval from lawmakers by March 2015 to give authorities time to prepare for the next chief executive election two years later.

    Moriarty says Hong Kong officials are trying to balance public demands to nominate candidates with Beijing pronouncements that restrict such rights.

    He says the referendum may give the Hong Kong government some leverage to push for a relaxation of those restrictions.

    "When the Hong Kong officials talk with Beijing, they can say, 'Look, you can attack this referendum all you want, but almost 800,000 people took part – more than 10 percent of our population. So come on, you have to realize the situation we are in,'" Moriarty said.

    "But, Hong Kong officials still face difficult choices on reform. They have one hand tied behind their back, and that hand is tied by Beijing."

    VOA’s Victor Beattie contributed to this report from Washington.


    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

    You May Like

    Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: NG from: Canada
    July 09, 2014 1:22 AM
    In 1997, China waned to try free election of legislative Council of Hongkang, but most legislative Council Members of Hongkang denied the proposal by voting because Hongkang didn't have democracy and free election at all for 100 years under UK governance. Legislative Council Members of Hongkang wanted to keep their positions forever and are not ready for free election at that time. HK people should not blame China for everything and they need to learn and know something before blaming and being angry. UK didn't set up procedures and regulations for democracy and free election at all for the pat 100 years, and there are not mature experiences of democracy and free elections in HK from UK at all. It takes some time. I believe HK is a good place to try democracy in China since Taiwan's democracy is not mature and people are sometimes beating each other using their fists inside Taiwan Parliament.

    by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
    July 03, 2014 9:03 PM
    The Beijing propaganda machine and its Hong Kong agents immediately condemn such demonstrations as provoked or orchestrated by British and American trouble-makers to undermine China. That is expected Pavlovian reflex from China.

    by: Wangchuk from: NY
    July 03, 2014 11:19 AM
    China's recent White Paper on Hong Kong makes clear that Beijing will not provide genuine democracy for HK even though it's guaranteed in the Basic Law. It's been 20 years since China took over HK but they've failed to live up to their promises for universal suffrage. Beijing says only "patriotic" candidates can govern HK and they will limit the choices that HK voters can choose from. That is not genuine democracy. HK's freedom and autonomy is threatened by Beijing's White Paper.

    by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angelese
    July 02, 2014 9:42 PM
    Bullying and intimation may be effective in Mainland. Not so in H K. Hong Kong is more international in scope and has developed into a civic society with an articulate middle class. China may close the mouths of big corporations and business interests, and even the Big Four accounting firms or HSBC. Mr. Chan living in Shamshuipo is fearless. He has nothing but his freedom to lose.
    In Response

    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    July 03, 2014 11:16 AM
    Comrade Huang says HKers never elected their British Governors. But since when is anything dictated by the past? Most democratic nations today never had democracy in their history, so why should HK (or China) be different? China was ruled by emperors for centuries, does that mean China should be ruled by emperors today? The Basic Law guarantees democracy for HK now and China must comply w/ the Basic Law. It's ironic that Comrade Huang, who claims to live in Canada, a democratic nation, would deny democracy to his fellow Chinese in Hong Kong.
    In Response

    by: jonathan huang from: canada
    July 03, 2014 9:23 AM
    had HKers ever elected any of their former british governors? even worse, had they even asked or protested to have one such election under British control? seems they were so happy to be british slaves and suddenly wake their democracy desire, how interesting!
    these pro-democracy are used by the west to undermine HK-China relationship, but majority HKers are smart and see the tricks. They woudnt let this farce go any further.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.