HK democrats spurn advice to back polls reform

HONG KONG - In a meeting with Hong Kong's pro-democratic legislators on June 3, a group of European diplomats urged them to support something they had campaigned against for months: a plan, backed by Beijing, to let the public elect Hong Kong's top official.

Even though those elections would be restricted to candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee - a poison pill for the Hong Kong democrats - several of the diplomats, through pointed questions to the lawmakers, argued that some democracy was better than none, said people who were present.

"I phrased the question in such a way... they could understand that they should vote for it," said a Western diplomat. "Some of us were advocating that it may be better to vote yes and take it."

But the lawmakers stuck to their guns, buoyed by the street protests that erupted last year after Beijing announced its election guidelines. Now, Hong Kong's political evolution is in limbo and, in the week since the vote, people on both sides of the issue have been caught up with the question of what happens next.

Beijing's loyalists in the Hong Kong legislature, meanwhile, have been trying to explain a parliamentary blunder that left the election plan with just eight votes in support.

Under the mini Constitution that governs Hong Kong, negotiated with Britain before the colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty, the Beijing government agreed to eventually allow voters to choose their top official, or Chief Executive.

But any such system must get the imprimatur of the central government and there is no indication that Beijing is in a hurry to make it a reality after the defeat of its plan, which had been intended to take effect in 2017, when the next Chief Executive will be chosen. Voters will most likely have to wait until at least 2022 for the chance to expand the franchise. Even then, there is no sign that officials in Beijing will soften their stance.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'HK democrats spurn advice to back polls reform'. Print Edition | Subscribe