Hong Kong's Pan-Democrats Knock Back Beijing's Election Plan

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A pro-democracy supporter takes pictures after a vote outside the city's legislature in Hong Kong, June 18, 2015.
A pro-democracy supporter takes pictures after a vote outside the city's legislature in Hong Kong, June 18, 2015.

Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday voted down a controversial electoral reform plan in a humiliating defeat for the government's Beijing-backed plan to widen the voting franchise in the former British colony.

Following a nine-hour debate that began on Wednesday, members of the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) voted against the bill by 28 votes to eight, with 34 pro-government lawmakers walking out in an unsuccessful bid to stall the vote.

The bill would have enacted an Aug. 31 plan outlined by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to allow all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters to cast a ballot in the 2017 race for the next chief executive, but would have limited the slate to candidates approved by Beijing.

The NPC's plan also required approval from 47 out a total of 70 LegCo members to pass, according to the decree by the NPC standing committee that sparked the 79-day pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" last year.

Pan-democratic lawmakers, who hold 27 seats in LegCo, have vowed to vote the plan down from the outset.

"The message that we are sending to the central people's government and the SAR government is that Hong Kong people would not want to take on this fake democratic package," pan-democratic lawmaker and Civic Party leader Alan Leong told reporters after the vote.

"We do not want our vote to be used to legitimize the appointment of a chief executive that belongs, and is accountable, to only ... vested interests," he said.

Leong said the pro-democracy movement isn't over, however.

"Today is not the end of the democratic movement. Quite the contrary," he said. "This is the starting point of another wave of the democratic movement."

Result welcomed

News of the result was greeted with cheering by pro-democracy protesters outside the LegCo building.

"I think all of the civic groups that support genuine universal suffrage should work together now, to see how we can transmit our message to every citizen," a supporter surnamed Yeung told RFA.

"We should continue to educate them, so they will be able to see clearly the road ahead for universal suffrage in Hong Kong," he said.

But a pro-reform protester surnamed Fu said Hong Kong couldn't progress to full democracy until it was more stable.

"Without stability, there's no way we will get democracy," Fu said, alluding to Beijing's claim that the Occupy Central movement was instigated by "hostile foreign forces."

"Hong Kong can't allow someone in cahoots with overseas powers to become chief executive," he said.

Joshua Wong, a prominent figure in last year's Occupy Central democracy movement, said there was no cause for celebration at the defeat of the bill in LegCo.

"We have neither won nor lost this battle," Wong told reporters, calling on Hong Kong people to continue to fight for fully democratic elections.

"We shouldn't allow ourselves to get complacent, because the pro-democracy faction isn't fighting to reject this bill, but for public nomination of candidates and genuine universal suffrage."

"Our request is, fight for true universal suffrage, civil nomination," Wong said. "It is time for us to admit that we need to continue to fight for democracy."

Beijing displeased

Beijing expressed its displeasure at the outcome on Thursday.

"Such a result is a departure from the mainstream public opinion of Hong Kong," the South China Morning Post newspaper quoted a spokesman for the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office as saying.

"It is also not what the central government likes to see," the spokesman said. "The central government sincerely hopes the various sectors of Hong Kong could unite under the leadership of the chief executive and the SAR government."

The city's incumbent chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, didn't mention the walkout by pro-establishment lawmakers, but blamed pan-democrats for the bill's defeat.

"The votes cast by those 28 members violate the principle of democracy," Leung said in a statement. "Universal suffrage for the [2017] election has now been blocked."

He said fully democratic elections for all of LegCo's seats were now also in doubt.

"I, the government, and millions of Hong Kong people are naturally disappointed," Leung said.

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to Chinese rule, Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and the maintenance of existing freedoms for 50 years.

The city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, provides in general terms for progression to fully democratic elections, but is interpreted differently by the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps.

Anti-Occupy campaigner Robert Chow said the vote marked "a black day for democracy in Hong Kong."

"Today, Hong Kong was the loser, but it won't be the loser forever," he said.

Mainlanders react

Across the internal border, mainland Chinese commentators said the result was significant for the whole of China.

"There are very close ties between Hong Kong and the mainland," Anhui-based dissident Shen Liangqing said. "The Occupy Central movement had an impact here."

But he said he wasn't optimistic about the future of democracy in Hong Kong.

"I think genuine universal suffrage will be very hard to achieve, but ... if they don't fight for it, they will end up getting more and more like the mainland," Shen said.

Chongqing-based scholar Zhang Qi said he found the reaction to Beijing's reform plan heartening, however.

"It shows the courage of the pan-democratic faction in Hong Kong," Zhang said. "If they had gone with the Chinese political reform plan for Hong Kong ... they wouldn't have seen universal suffrage for 60,000 years."

Official Chinese media warned that Hong Kong could descend into turmoil if mass protests return to the city's streets.

"We are concerned that a Pandora's box is being opened in Hong Kong and various devils are [being] released to ruin the [city]’s future," the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to China's ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial.

"People who love Hong Kong should work to keep the box tightly closed so that Hong Kong won’t degenerate from the capital of finance and fashion to a total mess," it said.

It denied that the result is an embarrassment for Beijing.

"It’s not an embarrassment to the country, but a humiliation to the radical opposition camp," the paper said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing, Chiu Tse-ho and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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