Pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong walked out of the city's legislature on Wednesday in protest after the government tabled a set of electoral reforms within strict limits laid down by Beijing.
Around 17 lawmakers walked out, shouting slogans against "fake universal suffrage," after the territory's second-in-command Carrie Lam told the Legislative Council (LegCo) that no amendments would be permitted to the reforms.
Pan-democratic lawmakers, who hold 27 out of 60 LegCo seats, have repeatedly vowed to block the proposed legislation when it comes to a vote. The government needs a two-thirds majority to pass legislation in LegCo.
Outside the chamber, around 100 protesters gathered, wearing yellow T-shirts and carrying the trademark yellow umbrellas of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement, chanting "I want real universal suffrage! Oppose fake universal suffrage!"
Pan-democratic LegCo member Kenneth Leung said he had boycotted the entire session.
"It's just another way to express my dissatisfaction with the whole proposal, because this proposal, I've heard it before, a year ago, and none of it has been changed," Leung told reporters.
"That's the sole reason. It's a total waste of my time."
Lam told the Council not to miss a "golden opportunity" to broaden the voting franchise in 2017 elections for the next chief executive, who is currently chosen by a 1,200 Beijing-backed committee.
"We have reached a crucial time in our political development, and whether or not we march forward or take a step backwards is in the hands of legislative councilors," Lam said.
"I call on all LegCo members, especially our friends in the pan-democratic camp, to stop and think," she said. "If LegCo rejects this package, then all our hopes of electing the chief executive with 'one person, one vote' will come to nothing, and the general public will be very disappointed."
No room for change
The reforms as tabled by Lam were in line with guidelines issued by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), on Aug. 31, under which Hong Kong's five million voters will each cast a ballot for the chief executive, but may only choose between two or three candidates pre-approved by Beijing.
Asked if there would be any opportunity to amend the package in LegCo, Lam replied: "The government sees the package as reasonable and there is no room for change."
Pan-democratic Civic Party leader Alan Leong warned that accepting the government's Beijing-backed proposals would mean no further reforms would be forthcoming.
"Once we have passed any electoral model announced today which is restrained by the National People's Congress standing committee's decision, that would be the ultimate electoral model envisaged by Article 45 of the Basic Law," Leong told reporters.
"This is really meant to be the end-game."
He rejected the slogan "pocket it for now," meaning Hong Kong should take what it can get and continue to campaign for fully democratic elections in future.
"If we pocket it, that would mean we will give the executive and the central people's government an excuse. There is no incentive for them to hand in their homework any more," Leong said.
Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, provides for the territory to progress to "universal suffrage," but sets out neither a precise time-frame nor a definition of the term.
Nomination process 'a mockery'
Under the government's proposals published on Wednesday, the 2017 elections will require aspiring candidates to garner support from at least 120 members of the election committee, which will then narrow down the list of candidates in a secretly balloted primary election to just two or three.
The general public will then take part in a one person, one vote ballot to decide between the pre-approved candidates, using a first-past-the-post system.
Pan-democratic lawmaker and Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said the selection process would render the eventual ballot meaningless.
"It's meaningless to talk about who can seek candidacy when what matters most is who the electorate actually gets to vote for," Lee said.
"The fact that they have to be nominated by a committee makes a mockery of any idea of genuine universal suffrage," he said.
"If we are only allowed to vote for people chosen for us by the central government [in Beijing], then what is the point of those five million votes?"
Hong Kong chief executive C.Y. Leung warned that there was great uncertainty about what would happen if the package doesn't pass in LegCo, calling on lawmakers and the public to support the proposed reforms.
"I can say that today is an important milestone in Hong Kong's democracy, because our package fits the Basic Law, the national legislature's decisions, democratic spirit, and Hong Kong residents' aspiration and demands," Leung told a news conference on Wednesday.
"I'm confident [that it will pass in LegCo]," he said.
But Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau said the issue was whether or not Beijing had lived up to the promises it made ahead of the 1997 handover from British rule.
"They have promised us universal suffrage, and now they are saying that giving us one person, one vote means this promise has been kept," Lau told RFA.
"That is totally incorrect."
The NPC's Aug. 31 edict sparked the mass Occupy Central democracy movement that blocked key highways in downtown Hong Kong for 79 days last year, and took the yellow umbrella as its symbol after protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray and tear-gas in clashes with police.
The movement, which campaigned for "genuine universal suffrage" and the preservation of Hong Kong's traditional rights and freedoms, drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets at its height.
Pan-democratic lawmaker and political activist Leung Kwok-hung told reporters that the pro-democracy movement had expressed the true will of the people of Hong Kong.
"That is the voters' talk, not official talk, nor [that of] those academics who stay in their ivory towers and talk about what is the real consensus of the Hong Kong people," Leung said.
Asked to comment on Lam's assertion that the Occupy Central movement had lost public support, Leung said: "We will have to see how things develop over the next couple of months, and whether or not opposition to the plan will bring the general public out onto the streets once more."
Reported by Dai Weisen and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.