04/22/2015, 00.00
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The Hong Kong government closes the door on universal suffrage

The authorities table a draft for electoral reform before the Legislative Council that is identical to the one presented by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing. The proposal is set to go to a vote next month. It requires the support of four pro-democracy legislators to pass. The opposition plans to block it; otherwise, things will not change.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The next election of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, scheduled for 2017, should take place as planned by the National People’s Congress.

A Nominating Committee modelled on the existing Election Committee will be tasked with choosing candidates for the post of chief executive. However, only the top two or three will go forward to the citywide poll to be elected by universal suffrage.

Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rolled out the reform plan in an address today before the Special Administrative Region’s Legislative Council. During her speech, pro-democracy legislators walked out.

Under the proposed reform, contenders for Hong Kong’s top job in 2017 will need just 120 votes of support from the Nominating Committee in order to qualify for consideration as candidates.

Like the Election Committee, the Nominating Committee will have 1,200 members, 300 each from one of four major sectors (business and commercial, professionals, political, and social and religious), which represent 38 sub-sectors.

Each would-be candidate can get a maximum of 240 votes, so as to have a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 candidates.

Afterwards, each Nominating Committee member can cast at least two approval votes among all the contenders. The two or three potential candidates with the highest votes – with a minimum of 600 nominators’ approval – can stand in front of the whole electorate.

Ms Lam did not explain who or how the final number of candidates would be chosen, what would happen if only one candidate makes it, what procedures would be used between the first and second vote in the Nominating Committee.

During her address, 17 legislators from the Pan Democrat camp, a grouping of 27 members of Hong Kong’s legislative council who have vowed to oppose the package, walked out of the chamber in protest, shouting slogans.

Before leaving, they left signs with a cross on the desk in front of their seat (pictured) to show their opposition to the government plan.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said pan-democrats would campaign against the government package and that his party would definitely vote against it.

The Hong Kong government plans to have its proposed amendments voted by the 70-member Legislative Council next month, where it will need a two-thirds majority to pass it. This means that it must win over at least four pro-democracy legislators.

If the package is not passed, there will be no reform and Hong Kong’s chief executive will remain in the hands of the existing Election Committee, which is controlled by Beijing.

The draft proposal for electoral reform presented today by the Hong Kong government is the same as the one presented in August 2014 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

When the latter was announced, tens of thousands of people joined the ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love,’ movement, which had been peacefully challenging the government for months, demanding real democratic reforms.

Except for some skirmishes between pro-democracy activists and pro-government demonstrators, the protest movement ended peacefully, after impressing the people of the city.

At present, the student groups that joined Occupy – and effectively took control of the movement – said that are going to wait for the May vote to see if and how to restart the popular protest.

Occupy leaders back pro-democracy members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, but have not provided details about future demonstrations.

For its part, the Catholic Church had come out in favour of the demonstrations. Although it called on Catholics to remain calm and use non-violence, the Diocese opened its churches in the occupied areas to allow protesters to rest overnight.

It also issued appeals and presented analyses in favour of democratic reform for the city. At the same time, it worked for a peaceful compromise when the situation seemed to get out of hand.

Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus Card Joseph Zen played a leading role from the beginning of the movement, going so far as to spend a few nights with pro-democracy protesters.

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