Pro-democracy protesters switch on their mobile phones during a campaign to kick off the Occupy Central civil disobedience event in front of the financial Central district in Hong Kong. Photo by Reuters
Pro-democracy activists have vowed to bring Hong Kong's
financial hub to a standstill after China's parliament
rejected their demands for the right to freely choose the
former British colony's next leader in 2017.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
(NPC) endorsed a framework to let only two or three
candidates run in the 2017 leadership vote. All candidates
must first obtain majority backing from a nominating
committee likely to be stacked with Beijing loyalists.
The relatively tough decision by the NPC - China's final
arbiter on the city's democratic affairs - makes it almost
impossible for opposition democrats to get on the ballot.
"This is a legal, fair and reasonable decision. It is a
dignified, prudent decision, and its legal effect is beyond
doubt," Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the NPC standing
committee, told reporters after the decision.
Hundreds of "Occupy Central" activists, who demand Beijing
allow a real, free election, prepared to stage a small
protest late on Sunday to formally launch a campaign of civil
disobedience that will climax with a blockade at some time of
the city's important Central business district.
"Today is not only the darkest day in the history of Hong
Kong's democratic development, today is also the darkest day
of one country, two systems," said Benny Tai, a law professor
and one of Occupy Central's main leaders, referring to the
formula under which capitalist Hong Kong, with a population
of around 7.2 million, was returned to Communist Chinese rule
The Occupy movement said in a statement that "all chances of
dialogue have been exhausted and the occupation of Central
will definitely happen."
It gave no timeframe for its action.
A spokesman for Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, which
operates the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, said contingency
planning was taken very seriously.
"We have long had a specialist team that co-ordinates group
response plans for scenarios that put at risk the continuing
operation of the exchange or threaten the well-being or
safety of our staff."
Hong Kong's current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said
Beijing's decision represented a major step forward in Hong
"Universal suffrage for the (chief executive) election
through "one person, one vote" by Hong Kong people is not
only a big step forward for Hong Kong, but also a historic
milestone for our country," he said, adding people should
express their opinion through peaceful and legal methods.
Political reform has been a constant source of friction
between Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and the mainland
since Britain returned the city to China 17 years ago.
In nearby Macau, another special administrative region,
leader and sole candidate Fernando Chui was "re-elected" on
Sunday by a select panel of 400 largely pro-China loyalists
in the tiny but wealthy former Portuguese colony.
GIRDING FOR ACTION
Scores of police vehicles and hundreds of officers were
deployed outside Hong Kong government headquarters as people
began to gather late on Sunday, braving heavy rain at times,
with some chanting slogans.
Key government buildings, including the Chief Executive's
office and a People's Liberation Army barracks nearby, were
also ringed by high fences and barricades.
"It (the NPC decision) leaves no room for us to fight for a
genuinely democratic system, and we will begin our campaign
for peaceful, non-violent struggle," said Joseph Cheng, the
convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, a coalition of
groups advocating universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
"We want to tell the world we haven't given up. We will
continue to fight."
On the surface, the NPC's decision is a breakthrough that
endorses the framework for the first direct vote by a Chinese
city to choose its leader. Beijing is already hailing it as a
milestone in democratic reform.
However, by tightly curbing nominations for the 2017
leadership poll, some democrats said Beijing was pushing a
Chinese-style version of "fake" democracy.
The NPC statement said all nominations would be carried out
according to "democratic procedures" and each candidate would
need the endorsement of more than half of a nominating
committee that will be similar in composition to an existing
1,200-person election committee stacked with Beijing
The proposed electoral framework will still needs to be
approved by two-thirds of Hong Kong's 70-seat legislature.
With pro-democracy lawmakers holding more than a third of the
seats, the proposal will likely be shelved.
In that case, the next leader would likely again be chosen by
a small election committee. Wang Zhenmin, a prominent legal
scholar and adviser to the Chinese government, said recently
that: "Less perfect universal suffrage is better than no
universal suffrage," adding that this window of opportunity
in Hong Kong was an historical crossroads after "2,000 years
of (Chinese) feudal history without any democracy."
Senior Chinese officials have repeatedly warned activists
against their "illegal" protests, and say they won't back
Some key members of the pro-democracy movement, including
media magnate Jimmy Lai, have also come under pressure in the
run-up to the Chinese parliamentary decision.
China has also repeatedly warned against foreign
interference, saying it will not tolerate the use of Hong
Kong "as a bridgehead to subvert and infiltrate the
The Occupy Central movement has not yet won broad support
among Hong Kong's middle class, who are concerned about
antagonising China and disruptions to business. Any strong
measures by China or the Hong Kong police could change that.