HK lawmakers throw out Beijing-backed poll package

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo holding up a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the Occupy Central movement, after voting on the electoral reform package yesterday. Twenty-eight of the 70 lawmakers in the legislature voted against the package, which need
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo holding up a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the Occupy Central movement, after voting on the electoral reform package yesterday. Twenty-eight of the 70 lawmakers in the legislature voted against the package, which needed two-thirds support to pass. PHOTO: REUTERS

City in deadlock over picking leader as China's top legislature refuses to budge

HONG KONG - Hong Kong lawmakers yesterday rejected a Beijing-backed electoral reform package derided as "fake democracy" during mass protests last year, leaving the city in deadlock over how its leader should be chosen.

The government's electoral roadmap would have given all residents the right to vote for the chief executive for the first time in 2017, but they would be able to choose only from candidates vetted by a Beijing-loyalist panel.

Twenty-eight of the 70 lawmakers in the legislature voted against the plan. Only eight voted in favour after a failed bid to delay the vote through a walkout left most supporters of the plan outside the chamber for the ballot.

"This result is not what we want to see," Beijing's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after the vote, which required support from two-thirds of the assembly's lawmakers to pass. He said China wanted to "press ahead with the democratic development of Hong Kong" in the interests of stability and prosperity in the former British colony.

However, China's top legislature was adamant that the principles it laid down for the direct election of the city's leader would stay. "The decision shall continue to serve as the constitutional ground for Hong Kong in the future as it enforces universal suffrage in the chief executive election, and its legal force is unquestionable," said a statement from the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Analysts agreed that Beijing was unlikely to alter its stance on the vetting of candidates, and the authorities in Hong Kong have said the political reform debate is now off the table for 2017.

"It is time to move on," Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying told reporters after the vote. "For the next two years, the government will focus the efforts on the various economic development and livelihood issues."

The chief executive will continue to be chosen by a 1,200-strong committee of the city's mostly Beijing-friendly elite that has selected all three leaders since the city was returned to China in 1997.

The vote marked a bitter-sweet victory for the pro-democratic lawmakers who failed to convince Beijing to permit candidates to be chosen freely.

"We do not want our votes to be used to legitimise a pre-vetting system," said Mr Alan Leong, leader of the Civic Party. "We do not want our votes to be used to legitimise a chief executive that belongs and is accountable to only the vested interests."

Supporters of the plan argued that partial democracy would offer the chief executive more legitimacy than the current system, and allowing Hong Kong residents to vote for their leader was more important than arguing about how the candidates were chosen.

"I firmly believe the electoral reform is the best proposal that the government can put forward," Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said just before the vote. "It's also the best for Hong Kong and China's interests."

Pro-democracy lawmakers posed for photographs with yellow umbrellas, a symbol of last year's protest movement, after the vote. Crowds of people supporting the Bill dissipated as the results filtered out.

There was little of the tensions that led to the clashes last year during the occupation that sapped tourism and retail sales.

The rejection of the proposal lessens the likelihood of a renewal of the mass protests, and investors have taken it in their stride. The benchmark stock market index fell around 0.6 per cent after the vote but quickly rebounded.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2015, with the headline 'HK lawmakers throw out Beijing-backed poll package'. Print Edition | Subscribe