HONG KONG LEGISLATURE REJECTS ELECTION REFORM PACKAGE
June 19, 2015
A bill proposed by the Chinese government that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to vote for their next leader – with candidates pre-approved by Beijing – has been rejected by Hong Kong’s legislature. In a vote Thursday, 28 out of Hong Kong’s 70 lawmakers rejected the proposal. Eight voted in favor. If the reforms had passed, Hong Kong’s five million registered voters would have been able to elect their next chief executive for the first time in 2017. The downside, at least from the pro-democracy camp’s perspective, is that Beijing has insisted on the right to screen the candidates — a condition that the Occupy movement said was tantamount to “fake democracy.”
The defeated proposal, which supporters call a significant step towards democracy and opponents call a mere facsimile of free elections, led to debate from both sides on both Wednesday and Thursday. Each representative was allowed 15 minutes to make a statement, although their arguments added little to the existing discussion. Some said the reforms would be the first step on the road to complete democratization, while others said they would change little and serve to increase mainland involvement in Hong Kong politics.
Pro-democracy legislator Albert Chan, who voted against the bill, labeled the proposal’s failure a “victory.” “We do not want to have a fake democratic system in Hong Kong,” he told CNN. “We want to continue fight for genuine democracy.” Meanwhile, Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, told CNN the result was “highly regrettable… this does not bode well for governance.” In the final moments of the bill’s debate, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief secretary and the city’s number two official, said, “As to who should be held liable, I think the answer is clear.” Accusing pro-democracy legislators of holding the city “hostage,” she asserted that democratic elections might now become a “dream that’s never realized.” A Global Times op-ed agreed with Lam, asserted, “All those who voted against the blueprint might be cocky today, but they will face the judgment of history and shoulder the responsibility eventually… it’s not an embarrassment to the country, but a humiliation to the radical opposition camp.”
And yet this “humiliation” is as much a failure of China’s strategy as it is for the proposal. Hong Kong and mainland officials spent months trying to convince citizens that the proposal was a good move towards democracy, but they barely managed to convince more than half of the city’s electorate that this was the case, which some members of the pan-democratic camp had listed as a requirement in order for the package to earn their votes. The pro-Beijing group’s attempts to win over the pan-democrats themselves ended in even bigger failure, with not one of the 27 supporting the package, despite early rumors that some would change sides. Some believe that China’s unwillingness to compromise on the package after the Umbrella Movement was its undoing; despite months of protests at the end of last year, the proposal presented to the Legislative Council was completely unchanged.
With the proposal rejected, the question becomes, “now what?” According to Xinhua News Agency, the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, said after the vote that any future attempt at political reform will be based on the rejected plan. In other words, Beijing is still not open to compromise on the issue. For now, the end result is that China will still get a chief executive it wants in 2017, though that person will lack the added legitimacy of a popular mandate. However, it will also face a city that has become incredibly polarized, and a pan-democratic camp that says it is determined to continue to use the existing political system, including the upcoming district and legislature elections, to promote “true universal suffrage.”
The chaotic vote on the package, which included an ill-timed attempt at a walkout by pro-Beijing legislators, also casts doubt upon the competence of those whom China considers allies in Hong Kong and lends credence to the pro-democracy assertion that China gets its information about Hong Kong from people who are out of touch with the mood of the city. Questions also remain about whether China will seek another term for current chief executive C.Y. Leung, a controversial figure whose resignation has been demanded repeatedly by pro-democracy activists. While Leung is certainly pro-Beijing and worked against the Umbrella Movement last year, it is quite possible that Mainland officials will decide that the protests and rejected proposal represent a failure on Leung’s part that is too big to ignore. For his part, Leung made a rare attempt at conciliation with opposition lawmakers the day after the vote, Mr. Leung said the government would take a proactive role to “rebuild harmony in society” and “work constructively” with the legislature.
Despite the current uncertain status of democracy in Hong Kong, many of those who voted against the proposal continue to be optimistic. “This veto has helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing … that we want a genuine choice, a real election,” said pan-democratic lawmaker Alan Leong. “This is not the end of the democratic movement,” he added. “This is a new beginning.” Only time will tell if he is correct.
For more information on this topic, visit the following links:
International Business Times – China Expresses Regret Over Hong Kong Vote, But Says Its Position Remains Unchanged
Wall Street Journal – Hong Kong Leader Moves to Soothe Vote Tensions
The Economist – A Snub to the Party
Global Times – Sad moment for Hong Kong democratic process
CCTV America – Hong Kong vetoes motion for electoral reform
China Daily – HK lawmakers reject election reform motion
世界新聞網 (World Journal) – 政改方案未過 港府:特首無法普選
風傳媒（Storm Media Group) – 贊成派議員突然棄守 香港「政改方案」遭否決
大紀元 (Epoch Times) – 外媒聚焦香港否決政改方案 一個新的開始
Compiled and edited by Emily O’Brien.