Hong Kong's Pan-Democratic Lawmakers Stage Walk-Out

2015-01-07
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Pro-democracy lawmakers carrying yellow umbrellas walk out of the legislative chamber, Jan. 7, 2015.
Pro-democracy lawmakers carrying yellow umbrellas walk out of the legislative chamber, Jan. 7, 2015.
AFP

Pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong raised yellow umbrellas in the city's legislature on Wednesday in protest as the government announced a second round of public consultations on political reforms in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

Chanting "I want full universal suffrage," the 24 members of the Legislative Council (Legco) opened yellow umbrellas, the symbol of pro-democracy street protests that lasted for more than two months last year, before walking out.

Hong Kong's second-in-command Carrie Lam framed the consultation exercise as a public debate on the constitution of the controversial Beijing-approved election committee, which under an Aug. 31 ruling by China's parliament will vet candidates in the 2017 elections for the city's chief executive.

She said the reform package approved by Beijing would create a "solid foundation" for further reforms, including fully democratic elections for LegCo.

Umbrellas, yellow ones in particular, became the symbol of the Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections in 2017 after protesters used them to ward off tear gas and pepper spray attacks from riot police on Sept. 28 that brought hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets in protest.

The Occupy movement has campaigned for Beijing to withdraw its electoral reform plan, which it calls "fake universal suffrage," and to allow publicly nominated candidates to run for chief executive in 2017.

But Beijing has said any reforms must stick to the Aug. 31 decree, and has slammed international support for the Umbrella Movement, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is "void" and that China answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Vow to vote against

Pan-democratic politicians, who hold 24 out of 60 LegCo seats, have vowed to vote against the reform package, which will likely be put to a vote in mid-2015.

Lam said the pan-democrats aren't working in the best interests of Hong Kong's electorate.

"Anyone refusing to participate in the consultation, or even vowing to veto any constitutional development proposal ... is effectively depriving five million eligible voters of their opportunity to elect the chief executive by universal suffrage," she told lawmakers.

"I call on them to show some political courage and wisdom, and play a positive part in this debate, and not to boycott the consultation or the electoral reform package," Lam said.

"If the electoral reform proposals for the 2017 chief executive elections aren't passed, then that will leave no room for a directly elected LegCo in 2020," she said.

"In that case, we would have to wait until 2022 to directly elect the chief executive, and the development of democracy in Hong Kong will be delayed still further."

The Hong Kong government is inviting opinions on how the election committee should be constituted, how nominations should work, and other details.

Call to participate

According to China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee, the nominating committee should be based on the same principles as the election committee that voted in current chief executive C.Y. Leung in 2012, incorporating representatives of business, the professions, community groups, and politicians.

There is still some leeway for adjusting the number of members in each sector and exactly who will be allowed to vote for them, Lam said.

Leung on Wednesday also called on pan-democratic politicians to take part in the consultation process.

"It is better to have universal suffrage than not, and moving forward is always better than standing still," Leung said in a statement.

Pan-democratic lawmaker and Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan hit out at the NPC for "stripping Hong Kong people of their rights," however.

"This second round of consultations is going forward on the basis of the NPC's framework, so actually there is no room to move towards genuine universal suffrage at all," Lee said.

"If Carrie Lam wants to take away people's right to vote, then she should come out and admit the truth," he said.

'Fancy words and spin'

Occupy Central student leader Lester Shum agreed.

"It doesn't matter how much the government and the political establishment try to dress this up in fancy words and spin," Shum told reporters.

"Any electoral reform on the basis of the Aug. 31 decision ... will strangle the hopes of the Hong Kong people for the exercise of their political rights, including the equal right to nominate candidates," Shum said.

"We will be campaigning for LegCo members to veto this reform package," he added.

Fellow Occupy student leader Joshua Wong said that his academic activist group Scholarism is now in the process of collecting views from its student membership, and is spreading its message on Hong Kong's university and college campuses.

One of a handful of Occupy Central protesters who remained near LegCo on Wednesday called consultation process "meaningless."

"This is a waste of time, because they have already made up their minds," the protester, who gave only his surname Lau, told RFA.

"They are saying that the NPC's decision can't be altered at all, and that they don't care at all about the will of the people," he said.

He added: "I think we will be carrying out some more actions, because we are still as dissatisfied as we were before."

'Unhelpful'


But Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of pro-Beijing party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the pan-democrats' attitude was "unhelpful."

"They shouldn't carry out a boycott or other unfortunate actions; I don't think this will help the situation," Tam said.

Retired Chinese diplomat Chen Zuo'er, who headed Beijing's negotiating team ahead of the handover from British colonial rule in 1997, said the consultation process would probably benefit from having been delayed until after the 79-day occupation of major highways in Hong Kong ended last month.

"The majority of Hong Kong's citizens have learned a lesson from the illegal Occupy Central movement, as well as from the reflections of a number of scholars at [China's] National Research Council For Hong Kong and Macau," Chen told reporters.

"[They know now] how Hong Kong should proceed along the road to democracy, and how democracy should be furthered," he said.

Hong Kong police, who made dozens of arrests during the clearance of Occupy sites on the orders of the city's High Court last year, will target 32 core activists from the Occupy movement in a first round of arrests on public order and contempt of court charges, government broadcaster RTHK quoted unnamed sources as saying.

Those on the list include Occupy Central founders Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming, as well as outspoken Next Media boss Jimmy Lai, RTHK said.

Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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