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China rejects open nominations for Hong Kong elections

Hong Kong Divided on Electoral Law

4 September 2014

Hong Kong is headed for a troubled period after a ruling by China last week that the promise of universal suffrage in 1917 would be fulfilled – but that the candidates would have to be screened by a 1,200 election committee in which a majority are regarded as pro-Beijing.

The Occupy Central movement has now stated it would seek to implement its threat of a peaceful shutdown of central Hong Kong.  Last week, pro-democracy activists disrupted a speech in Hong Kong by Li Fei, deputy secretary general of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee, as he attempted to defend the proposals.

The US, UK and EU have expressed concern at the Beijing decision and a British parliamentary committee is set to review the implementation of the 1984 Basic Agreement between UK and China, a move that has irritated Beijing.

The 1984 agreement laid down the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, where the city would enjoy ‘a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs’ for 50 years.  This means that Hong Kong has its own legal system, as well as freedom of assembly and free speech. But many consider China has been pressing the judiciary and media in Hong Kong to reflect more the wishes of Beijing.

This is why the Occupy Central movement has sprung up led by some prominent academics and lawyers. They claim that China has reneged on the spirit if not the letter of its promise of direct elections for chief executive by 2017. Under Beijing’s current proposal voters will only have a choice from a list of two or three candidates selected by the largely business dominated 1,200 strong nominating committee. Any candidate would have to secure the support of more than 50% of the nominating committee before being able to run in the election. In June, Occupy Central organised a referendum on different possible ballots in which nearly 800,000 voters took part and which they said showed clear support for the principle of one man, one vote.

But there are also many groups, including a majority of the finance houses and business in Hong Kong, who would prefer not to rock the boat. They worry that instability could threaten Kong Kong’s prosperity as well as its relationship with China.

China has defended its ruling on election candidacy suggesting that openly nominating candidates would create a ‘chaotic society’ and that any chief executive must ‘love the country.’ It has condemned the pro-democracy protests and called the unofficial referendum a ‘farce.’ It has also made clear that while Hong Kong has a ‘high degree of autonomy,’ it is ‘not full autonomy.’ China still has ‘comprehensive jurisdiction.’

The Hong Kong government must still discuss Beijing's election ruling and formulate a bill to be passed by the legislature. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hailed Beijing's decision on election candidacy as a ‘major step forward in the development of Hong Kong’ and said that the city had greatly benefited from the ‘one country, two systems’ model.

The controversy in Hong Kong has found some resonance in the UK which ruled the colony for 150 years without bothering too much about democracy. The foreign affairs committee has instigated a report into the implementation of the 1984 basic agreement.  But China has condemned this move as ‘highly inappropriate act which constitutes interference in China's internal affairs’. It states that China will ‘brook no interference, either directly or indirectly, from the UK or any other external forces’ and that the inquiry ‘will have a negative impact on the relations between our countries.’