Hong Kong’s government unveiled election-reform proposals on Wednesday allowing residents to vote for the city’s leader for the first time, but they face stiff resistance from pro-democracy lawmakers and activists, because the candidates will be selected by a pro-Beijing panel.
The long-expected proposals could spark renewed protests by student leaders and others who occupied key streets in the city for nearly three months last year, at times clashing with riot police. Nearly 1,000 people were arrested during what was called the Occupy Central protest movement that marked the city’s most tumultuous period since China took control of the territory from Britain in 1997.
Outlining details of the reform packages to lawmakers, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said that under the government’s proposals, the city’s five million eligible voters could choose from up to three candidates in 2017.
But she said the power to select candidates would remain in the hands of a 1,200-member group of tycoons and other elites viewed as sympathetic to the mainland Chinese government. Hong Kong government faces opposition, as it unveils Beijing-backed election reforms. Lam said the reforms would allow for up to 10 possible candidates to be shortlisted by the panel, which would then winnow the number down to three candidates through a secret ballot.
The proposals will be sent to the specially administered Chinese city’s legislature for approval by June. However, pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to use their veto power to vote it down. The lawmakers, most wearing yellow Xs on their shirts and some holding yellow umbrellas—a symbol of the protest movement—walked out of the legislature chamber after Lam’s speech.
The city’s current leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, urged lawmakers to vote in favour.
“Launching political reform is not easy,” said the deeply unpopular Leung, who was hand-picked for the job by the elite panel. “If it’s vetoed this time, I believe it will be a number of years before we can launch it again.”
Joshua Wong, the teenage student leader who became the protest movement’s most famous face, dismissed the reform package.
“Those minor adjustments raised by the government are totally useless,” said the 18-year-old Wong. “We hope to have the freedom to choose, rather than just get the right to elect some of the candidates.”
He said he and other members of his Scholarism group would protest on Saturday in neighbourhoods where Lam and other government officials are expected to canvass for support from residents.