News / Asia

Hong Kong Starts Controversial Election Reform Process

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying looks on during a news conference in Hong Kong, July 15, 2014.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying looks on during a news conference in Hong Kong, July 15, 2014.

The Hong Kong government has issued a document formally asking Beijing to allow election reform. The paper, submitted on Tuesday to the Standing Committee of China's legislature, comes after months of intense debate over Beijing's role in the territory's future elections.

The report is the first formal step towards universal suffrage in the former British colony, and the outcome of five-months of government consultation with organizations and individuals in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the government had received 124,700 written submissions, and that the reform will be an important milestone of the democratic development of Hong Kong's political system.

"Today is a historic moment in the constitutional development of Hong Kong," he said. "We will be able to take a big stride forward in the democratic development of Hong Kong, if we are willing to forge consensus as much as we can, and leave behind our differences in a rational and pragmatic manner on the remaining work."

Hong Kong's Chief Executive is now elected by a committee of 1,200 people, largely representing Beijing's interests.

Reform plan

Responding to the announcement, Hong Kong Civil Rights Front leader Johnson Yeung said Hong Kongers will have to rely on themselves to push for reform.

"If we want to fight, if we want to occupy, we should not wait for the government’s second round of political consultation," he said. "Otherwise our action would only serve to overturn the consultation. If we want real suffrage, we should take action in civil disobedience between the end of August and the second round of political consultation."

The reform plan, which will ultimately need approval from Beijing, is intended to give the former British colony a “one man, one vote” type of democracy, a unique set up for a region under Chinese rule.

But the details on who will be eligible for top office has created a split between democrats in Hong Kong and the central authorities in Beijing.

Tuesday's document is unlikely to calm the spirits.

It presented two controversial topics as mainstream opinions, including the provision that candidates to the Chief Executive job should love the country and be patriotic, and that they should be picked by a nominating committee and not more directly by the public.

Activists have been calling for a legal framework that allows more independence in picking candidates and such a plan was endorsed by 800,000 Hong Kongers in an unofficial referendum earlier this year.

The paper mentions such a set up - called civic nomination - and says there are still considerable views that it should be included in the plan.

“Civil nomination is described in several points, but always as a kind of alternative view to something that is presented first, typically as a more mainstream view. So it's there, but one wouldn't guess that they [the Hong Kong government] plan to embrace it in any way," explains Michael Davis, a professor of law at Hong Kong University.

Beijing has repeatedly ruled out the possibility of direct selection of candidates by the public, insisting that such a provision does not comply with Hong Kong's constitution, or Basic Law.

Mistrust

In a recent white paper that enraged the territory's pro-democracy camp, Beijing stated that any autonomy the city enjoys is dependent upon authorization by the central government.

Such statements have fueled public mistrust of Beijing's intentions, says Davis, and run counter to the Sino-British agreement which granted Hong Kong with a “high degree of autonomy.”

“If the treaty now is completely dismissed as almost of no significance, but rather all of this takes its authority from China and China can interpret it any way it wants, and even indicates in there that China is the guardian of the rule of law, it's a very different picture than what was presented to Hong Kong when the Sino-British joint declaration was sold to Hong Kong,” said Davis.

Beijing is set to review the electoral reform plan in August and send it back to Hong Kong for comments.

Occupy Central, the group behind the unofficial referendum that endorsed civic nomination, has threatened to occupy downtown Hong Kong should the reform plan that is ultimately adopted fails to meet international standards of democracy.

 

 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 18, 2014 5:03 PM
This week's Economist carries an article called:Britain's Betrayal of Hong Kong. In it, it mentioned how Britain sacrifice defending Hong Kong' s interest to exchange for business with China.

by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 17, 2014 1:43 PM
Hong Kong people have to take to the street to show the world that they are angry. They do not support the government whose leader they elected and it is only a puppet for Beijing.

by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 17, 2014 12:20 AM
Martin Lee stated that the US State Department is mor robust in defending the rights of the Hong Kong people than the UK government. I am proud of what our government did. China told the USA and UK not to interfere with China's domestic affairs. Why not? Hong Kong SAR is a product of an international treaty called the Joint Declaration.

by: william li from: canada
July 16, 2014 11:34 AM
I never elected any PM candidates here in Canada. Those name on my votes were just the name of the parties and representatives. What I did in a Canadian election is to vote a political party and this party chooses the PM by itself. Tell me why HKers should elect their candidates? those HKers are spoiled kids, they didnt ask for election right under British rule, but riot under communist rules. I smell something there!
In Response

by: Wangchuk from: NY
July 17, 2014 10:44 AM
Genuine autonomy & democracy for Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law. China has failed to implement democracy in Hong Kong the past 20 years so they are in violation of the law. Autonomy is also guaranteed but China's recent White Paper threatens that autonomy by declaring that only "patriotic" citizens can govern Hong Kong. William Li chooses to live in a democracy (Canada). Why does Mr. Li seek to deny democracy to Hong Kong?

by: Nigeshabi from: Canada
July 16, 2014 11:00 AM
As a British colony for the past 100 years, people in Hongkong have never had democracy and free election of candidates by the public. Why UK did't allow Hongkong to realize democracy and free election, and used dictatorship to suppress Hongkong people for the past 100 years?

Hongkong people fear to protest UK under UK governance before, may be because UK police has guns. Shame on these Hongkong people. If they have fighted with UK for democracy from 1900-1997, they would be enjoying democracy right now without any interruptions. Until now, as a British colony, Hongkong didn’t even have any free election experience, shame on Kongkong people.

Why only fight with China instead of UK? This makes China look feeble, weak like a coward. When Japanese invaded Hongkong in WWII, no much Hongkong people have fighted with these Japanese Fascists because Hongkongese knew these Japanese Fascists would kill them if they interruptted ruling of Japan over Hongkong at that time.

Even in more democratic countries now, candidates of president were selected by Partisan Meeting instead of by public, civil nomination and direct selection of candidates by the public asked by pro-democracy Hongkong people have NOT been realized in even more democratic countries, like UK, US, Canada, Japan, Korean, Germany, France, etc. mainland China help a lot in Hongkong's economy, HK people should have better economy and peaceful and pragmatic politics.
In Response

by: Wangchuk from: NY
July 17, 2014 10:46 AM
For most of China's past it was ruled by emperors. Does that mean China must be ruled by emperors today? Since when does a country's political past dictate its political future? Only one thing is certain in life: change. Democracy for Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Basic Law. Why should the CCP not comply w/ the law? You choose to live in a democratic nation so why do you seek to deny Hong Kong its right to democracy?

by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 15, 2014 6:45 PM
For the last 17 years H K people deluded themselves in believing that a transfer of sovereignty is just a change of flags. Now they know what it is like under the best scenario of One Country Two Systems. Under the five star flag, Beijing is the sovereign master and the H K people do not matter, however many of them march into the street in protest.

by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 15, 2014 3:08 PM
From the Beijing's perspective, it is not at all controversial. It is a policy they decided at the highest level. The so-called opinion solicitation is a charade. Chinese people all know how the game is played. CY Leung dances to the tune of Beijing and not the H K people. 2017 will not be what H K people want, except for those who are bought up by China. I guess, many disappointed people will either emigrate if they have the option or go into the street to show their anger.

by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 15, 2014 2:47 PM
If Hong Kong people believe that Beijing will hand them on a plate universal suffrage and they can choose whoever they want to be their Chief Executive, be he Martin Lee or Longhair, I have an oyster farm for sale in Inner Mongolia. Wake up, folks. The Communist Party do not lose control. Not in their DNA.

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