Hong Kong Is About to Vote on Beijing’s Election Proposal. Here’s Why It Matters

June 16, 2015 Updated: June 21, 2015

Before the week is out, Hong Kong lawmakers will cast their vote for a Beijing-backed election reform plan—one that sparked the international financial hub’s biggest demonstration ever last year and raised tensions in the city.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council will debate the passing of a bill on Wednesday, which will allow the city’s 5 million eligible voters out of a population of 7.2 million pick their top official come the next elections in 2017. A vote is expected to take place on Thursday or Friday. The election plan will be sent to Beijing for approval if two-thirds of the 70 legislators vote yes.

Presently, the bill is four votes shy of securing passage—for months, all 27 pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to vote down the election plan.

These lawmakers claim that the Beijing framework, which was handed down on Aug. 31 last year, amounts to fake democracy because the two or three chief executive candidates will be picked by a nominating committee stacked with pro-Beijing interests.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters—students, professionals, homemakers, and retirees—have been so unimpressed with the Beijing election plan that they seized streets in key commercial and government areas for three months last year, and have organized several protest rallies this year, most recently on Sunday.

The pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong is aware that voting down the bill means having to stick with the current, distinctly undemocratic version, where the chief executive is picked by a small (1,200), nonrepresentative group of Beijing-friendly elites.

Voting down the bill means Hong Kong will be stuck with the current, hardly democratic arrangement where a group of 1,200 elites pick the chief executive, an arrangement the pro-democracy camp is willing to accept for the moment.

“We are back to square one, but, that’s the way it is,” pro-democracy legislator Emily Lau told United States broadcaster Voice of America. “It’s very tragic. … We’ve been fighting for several decades, but still Beijing will not allow Hong Kong to have genuine election … we’ve been fighting for so many years, and there’s no reason to stop.”

Student leader Joshua Wong, the teenage face of the Umbrella Movement, feels Hongkongers should start thinking about how the city can keep its special rights and privileges after 2047 when the “one country, two systems” formula ends. Hong Kong is allowed to retain its capitalistic system and way of life under the Communist regime for a period of fifty years after the British ceded sovereignty in 1997.

“The democracy movement is not the responsibility of one generation,” wrote Wong in a New York Times editorial.

Last Chance Saloon?

Chinese officials have refused to restart the election reform process or budge from the offered framework, a stance they made clear to a group of 14 pro-democracy lawmakers in a closed-door meeting at the end of May.

Beijing is “not going to yield an iota,” said Alan Leong, 1 of the 14, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese state mouthpiece People’s Daily also ran a series of editorials in recent weeks where they held up the August election plan as being in the best interests of the Hong Kong people, a rhetorical line repeated by Chinese Foreign Ministry official Song Ru’an on Tuesday.

“If the pan-democrats stubbornly insist on vetoing the proposal, democracy in Hong Kong will come to a standstill,” said Song. Lawmakers, added Song, should “cast a responsible ballot and give the proposal a chance.”

Hong Kong’s incumbent leader and pro-establishment lawmakers have made similar points.

If the pan-democrats stubbornly insist on vetoing the proposal, democracy in Hong Kong will come to a standstill.
— Song Ru

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Tuesday that pro-democracy lawmakers should not think that Beijing will reconsider their demands at a later date if they vote down the bill this week.

Holden Chow, the No. 2 man in the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, echoes Leung.

“If you veto the package this time, next time, in some 5 or 10 years, you launch the political reform again, you will face the same framework,” said Chow to the New York Times. “That means the status quo is maintained, but you’re wasting your time.”


Popular sentiment shows support for the election plan.

The latest poll results from a rolling survey on the chief executive election proposal conducted jointly by three Hong Kong universities shows 45 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed. The thousand-odd participants polled each time since the survey started in late April have generally support the proposal, though marginally.

While the pro-democracy lawmakers are expected to vote down the election proposal, demonstrations are likely to be held around Hong Kong legislature building in downtown Admiralty when the bill is being debated and voted on.

If the vote is passed, things could quickly sour, and the Hong Kong police are gearing up for it.

At least 5,000 officers will be on standby on the day of the vote, two senior police officers told Reuters.

Wong Yeung-tat, the leader of the localist group Civic Passion, complained in a Facebook post that the police and reporters have been asking him if he plans to force entry into Hong Kong’s legislature building. One of the members of his group was part of a break in at the LegCo building last year, part of the Occupy protests.

The police also detained nine people on Sunday and a 10th on Monday on suspicion of making explosives. The police claim at least one member belongs to a “local radical organization,” and displayed Guy Fawkes masks, air rifles, and fliers promoting “localism”—a political movement which advocates Hong Kong interests over the mainland—in a press conference on Sunday.

Ray Wong, organizer of localist group HK Indigenous, said in a Youtube clip on Tuesday that his group might not stick to the principle of nonviolence in the event of another mass demonstration.

“We have lost patience and confidence in the blind persistence of peace,” said Wong.