China’s parliament decided Sunday against letting Hong Kong voters nominate candidates for the 2017 election, despite growing agitation for democratic reform. The move is likely to spark long-promised protests in Hong Kong’s business district, as activists began planning and mobilizing within hours of the announcement. The decision by China’s National People’s Congress essentially allows Communist leaders to weed out any candidates not loyal to Beijing. “It’s not unexpected, but it is still infuriating,” said legislator Emily Lau, chairwoman of the Democratic Party. “This is not what Beijing promised. They’ve lied to the people of Hong Kong. And it’s clear we are dealing with an authoritarian regime.” Defending China’s ruling, Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said allowing public nominations in the election for Hong Kong’s leader would be too “chaotic.”
From left, founders of the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai and Chu Yiu-ming speak to supporters during a rally after China’s legislature has ruled out open nominations in elections for Hong Kong’s leader. (Vincent Yu/AP)
Since 1997, when Britain handed control of Hong Kong back to China, Beijing had promised to allow the region’s residents to vote for the chief executive beginning in 2017.
Chinese leaders presented the Sunday ruling as a democratic breakthrough because it gives Hong Kongers a direct vote, but the decision also makes clear that Chinese leaders would retain a firm hold on the process through a nominating committee tightly controlled by Beijing. And, according to a new clause, only candidates who “love the country, and love Hong Kong” would be allowed.
The ruling comes after a summer that has featured some of the largest and most high-profile protests in Hong Kong in years.