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Hong Kong Protesters to Hold Referendum


A woman poses for a photo with the paper fold umbrellas at the occupied area in Causeway Bay, a shopping district of Hong Kong, Oct. 21, 2014.
A woman poses for a photo with the paper fold umbrellas at the occupied area in Causeway Bay, a shopping district of Hong Kong, Oct. 21, 2014.

Hong Kong's student protest leaders will hold a referendum among followers Sunday to decide the direction of their civil disobedience campaign for universal suffrage in 2017 elections.

A coalition of protest groups says the referendum will be held at the main downtown protest site, where demonstrations are entering their fifth week. Protest leaders have vowed to include as many demonstrators as possible.

Alex Chow, secretary general of the Federation of Students, says the vote is necessary after students failed to secure any firm concessions on constitutional reform during Tuesday’s landmark talks with the government officials. At the Tuesday meeting, Hong Kong authorities offered to send a letter to China's cabinet relaying protesters' dismay at Beijing's decision to pre-approve candidates for the territory's 2017 election.

The government also offered to hold regular dialogue with the protesters on democratic reform, on the condition they end the protests that have blockaded many busy streets.

Main protest leaders have already rejected the proposals.

“Officials from the government said the platform .... would only serve for constitutional reform after 2017," said Chow. "That does not really help to solve the current problem."

According to those organizing Sunday's referendum, the vote is likely to contain two motions: one on whether the occupation movement should continue, and the other on whether to accept the government’s tentative offer to discuss constitutional reform in time for elections in 2022.

There are some logistical problems in implementing the vote among protesters, who potentially number in the tens of thousands and are scattered across several sites. But Chow says it is important the vote goes ahead.

“The government claims the [Federation of Students] does not represent the people, so the voting is to put more political pressure on the government and make them react in response to our demands,” he said.

According to Priscilla Lau, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress — the body whose Standing Committee passed down the August 31 decision to impose candidate-vetting procedures for Hong Kong's 2017 elections — the demonstration-wide referendum is premature.

“I suggest that, with the guarantee of the government," a reform dialog should continue, she said. "Then the students should go back to school; go back home. We have to make Hong Kong go back to normal life, then we can discuss further political reform.”

On Thursday, the protesters received a lift from the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which called on China to ensure universal suffrage, including the "right to stand for elections" without scrutiny or impediment.

Emily Lau, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong and chair of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong who attended the Geneva session, told VOA that UNHRC would send a letter to Beijing outlining their demands.

“Beijing promised Hong Kong could elect a chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017," she said. "But now the [U.N. committee] has spoken, and they regard the Beijing decision as not real universal suffrage. Universal suffrage implies the right to vote and the right to stand for election. So I hope Beijing will study the letter and revise its decision.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded Friday by telling reporters that China has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, suggesting that Hong Kong’s political system is outside the authority of the U.N. committee.

However, the covenant entered into force in Hong Kong in 1976. On the return of the former British colony to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Beijing agreed the treaty would continue to apply in local law.

Tens of thousands have camped out in several protest sites since late September, calling for the Beijing-friendly Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and for Beijing to allow genuine universal suffrage.

Hong Kong and mainland authorities say the protests are illegal and have suggested that the protesters do not reflect the will of Hong Kongers as a whole.

Some information for this report comes from Reuters.