HONG KONG—A group of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong resigned Tuesday to press Beijing for the right to universal suffrage for residents of the territory.
The five legislators from the Civic League and the League of Social Democrats handed in their resignations to Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Tuesday.
League of Social Democrats chairman Raymond Wong Yuk Man said the move would force by-elections which he hopes will serve as a referendum on direct elections in the territory.
“I felt that Beijing and the extreme leftists would become furious as soon as they heard the word ‘referendum,’” Wong said.
“In Taiwan when the Legislature passed the bill on a referendum several years ago, mainland China’s targeted the island with missiles. Today in Hong Kong, which is already part of China, people can’t even mention the words ‘de facto referendum.’”
“They accused us of staging an uprising. What they really want to do is denounce our referendum proposal,” he said.
Leung Kwok-hung, a member of the League of Social Democrats, said he wants residents of Hong Kong to be able to express their views through a vote “in a scientific and truthful manner.”
“We believe that the Chinese government, as a powerful regime, shouldn’t violate political ethics by blocking people from expressing their views in a fair and open environment,” he said.
More than 4,000 supporters, many of whom are known as the Youth Born After 1980, gathered at the Chater Garden near Hong Kong’s Legislative Council Wednesday night to rally in support of the referendum.
But pro-Beijing lawmakers have said they already plan to boycott the by-elections, a move that would undermine the legitimacy of the vote as a measure of public opinion on democracy.
Even critics from Hong Kong’s three other pro-democracy parties have called the resigned lawmakers irresponsible, saying they will force taxpayers to spend 150 million yuan (U.S. $22 million) in by-election spending.
Call for direct elections
Wong and Leung, who were joined by Alan Leong and Tanya Chan from the Civic Party and by Albert Chan from the League of Social Democrats in their resignation, are calling for full direct elections for Hong Kong residents by 2012.
Only half of Hong Kong's lawmakers are elected, while the remainder are drawn from district legislators and functional constituencies which favor the territory's business communities and pro-China groups.
If granted, the shift in voting rights would come years ahead of a transition planned by Beijing for 2020, as stipulated in Hong Kong’s constitution known as The Basic Law.
Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 in an agreement under which the territory would retain Western policies of lawmaking.
Beijing has insisted that plans to move to universal suffrage be put on hold, citing "political immaturity."
Audrey En, party chief of the Civic Party, said at a Wednesday press conference that Beijing had accused the group of seeking independence for Hong Kong from mainland China.
“They also accused us of engaging in subversion and anti-China rhetoric, and of creating chaos in Hong Kong,” Yu said.
“We believe that they should look at the facts. Our request is very peaceful and rational. It is no more than to allow all Hong Kong residents the right to vote.”
Policies slow to change
Hong Kong residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with Beijing’s approach to governing the territory, saying the central government is dragging its feet on commitments made during the territory’s handover.
Hundreds of people opposed to a planned U.S. $8.6 billion high-speed rail-link to China converged on Hong Kong's legislature earlier this month.
The mostly unelected legislature approved the measure, which is part of long-term government plans to integrate the former British colony further into China's growing high-speed rail network by 2015.
The protests, which came just days after a huge pro-democracy rally ended in clashes with police outside Beijing's representative office, have proved embarrassing for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who has reportedly been warned by Beijing to do a better job of handling dissent in Hong Kong.
Beijing-backed Tsang has seen his approval ratings drop in recent months as he battles increased discontent at home.
Original reporting by Xin Yu and Tang Qiwei for RFA’s Mandarin service and Bi Zimo and Li Jianjun for RFA’s Cantonese service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Jia Yuan and Joshua Lipes. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.