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Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pushes for ‘genuine democracy’
an article by Elaine Yu, Waging Nonviolence republished courtesy of a Creative Commons license

On July 15, the Hong Kong government unveiled its first report on electoral reform to Beijing, formally beginning the five step process to amend the methods for selecting the city’s leader and legislature. Chief Executive Leung Chun- Ying offered no concrete proposals, but affirmed the rule of the Chinese government.

Occupy Central in Hong Kong on July 1. (Flickr / Natasia Causse)

click on photo to enlarge

Meanwhile, two weeks earlier — and 17 years after Hong Kong’s return to China from British rule — hundreds of thousands of protesters took part in the annual July 1 march to call for a more direct election of the chief executive in 2017.

The former British colony has been embroiled in a debate about its roadmap to democracy for more than a decade. The past two chief executives were chosen by an 800- and 1,200-member committee respectively, long criticized for representing pro-Beijing interests.

Following the march, 511 protesters staged an overnight and peaceful sit-in in Central, the city’s government and financial district, in what was seen as a dress-rehearsal for the Occupy Central civil disobedience action that will take place if the authorities reject their demand for a “genuine democracy” in the next two years. All 511 occupiers were arrested and detained the following day for “participating in unauthorized assembly and obstructing police officers.”

The Occupy Central campaign was first conceived by law professor Benny Tai in January 2013. Organizers of the campaign say that Hong Kong’s electoral system must satisfy the international standards for universal suffrage, and reform proposals are to be decided through a democratic process, including three so-called Deliberation Days and a civil referendum. If the authorities continue to snub its efforts, the campaign will plan a nonviolent occupation of Central to block traffic and paralyze the financial hub.

Three proposals, all of which allow the public to directly nominate chief executive candidates, were shortlisted on the third deliberation day. Organizers worried that the narrow range of options would alienate moderates and discourage people from voting, but nearly 800,000 residents participated in the unofficial referendum in late June.

The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have consistently rejected public nomination as being incompatible with the Hong Kong Basic Law, the mini-constitution promulgated in 1990. Though outlining universal suffrage as the “ultimate aim,” the Basic Law states that only a “broadly representative nominating committee” can select candidates. Many predict that Beijing will render universal suffrage meaningless by devising a nomination process that screens out pro- democracy candidates and others who do not share the Communist Party’s views.

Under the “one country, two systems” principle in the Basic Law as agreed upon in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong enjoys a “high degree of autonomy” with an independent judiciary.

But Beijing sparked alarm and outrage across the legal and pro-democracy communities when it issued a white paper on June 10, which redefined the practice of “one country, two systems” and required that all the city’s administrators, judges of every court and other judicial personnel be patriotic.

Many lawyers see this as growing interference from Beijing and protested in a silent march a few days before the July 1 demonstration.

(This article is continued in the discussionboard)


Question(s) related to this article:

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Latest reader comment:

As the protests continue in Hong Kong to achieve democratic governance, Al Jazeera published on 6 October an interview with one of the protest leaders, Audrey Eu, chairwoman of the territory's Civic Party, who has been active in the ongoing protest:

Al Jazeera: What do you think these protests have achieved?
Audrey Eu (AE): If you ask me, what is the success of this movement; I think basically the first thing is the awareness of the people about universal suffrage, and the second thing is that they are no longer afraid and they feel that they can do something about it. It’s our city. You don’t leave it to some legislators or some political parties. Everyone has a part. 

This report was posted on August 18, 2014.