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Hong Kong Asks for Election Reform

Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists gather to promote plans for an unofficial referendum on democratic reform, May 2014.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists gather to promote plans for an unofficial referendum on democratic reform, May 2014.
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The Hong Kong government is asking the Chinese government for permission to make major changes to its elections process. Hong Kong sent a report to China’s legislature on Tuesday. The report comes after five months of intense debate in Hong Kong about China’s control of the territory’s future elections. Many people took part in the debate.

The report asks the Chinese government to permit every adult citizen in Hong Kong to vote.

Leung Chun-ying is the city’s chief executive. He said the government received 124,700 written messages about changes to the way the city elects its leaders.

“Today is a historic moment in the constitutional development of Hong Kong. We will be able to take a big stride forward in the democratic development of Hong Kong, if we are willing to forge consensus as much as we can, and leave behind our differences in a rational and pragmatic manner on the remaining work.”

A committee of 1,200 people now elects Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. Most of them support China’s policies.

If China approves the reform plan, it will permit Hong Kong to have a “one man, one vote” form of democracy. China does not permit such systems in other areas it rules.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and China’s central government do not agree on who will be permitted to hold the chief executive position in the city. The report sent to China last week is not likely to end the debate.

The report presented two important issues related to choosing candidates. One would require the candidate to love the country and be loyal to China. The other is that the candidate would be chosen by a nominating committee, not directly by the people of Hong Kong.

Activists have been calling for people in Hong Kong to have the power to choose candidates. Eight hundred thousand people supported such a plan in an informal vote earlier this year. A group called Occupy Central organized the vote. It has threatened to occupy downtown Hong Kong if the plan that China approves does not meet international standards of democracy.

The document sent to China calls the plan to permit citizens to choose candidates a “civic nomination.”

Michael Davis is a professor of law at Hong Kong University.

“Civil nomination is described in several points, but always as a kind of alternative view to something that is presented first, typically as a more mainstream view. So it’s there, but one wouldn’t guess that they (the Hong Kong government) plan to embrace it in any way.”

China has repeatedly said it would not permit the public to directly choose candidates. It says this would not agree with Hong Kong’s constitution, or Basic Law.

The Chinese government recently published a research document that angered many pro-democracy activists in the territory. It said any self-rule the city enjoys is given by approval of the central government.

Such statements have fueled public mistrust of China’s goals. Professor Davis says these kinds of statements oppose the agreement between Britain and China that gave Hong Kong, in its words, a “high degree of autonomy.”

“If the treaty now is completely dismissed as almost of no significance, but rather all of this takes its authority from China and China can interpret it any way it wants, and even indicates in there that China is the guardian of the rule of law, it’s a very different picture than what was presented to Hong Kong when the Sino-British joint declaration was sold to Hong Kong.”

China is expected to study the electoral reform plan in August and send it back to Hong Kong for comments.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This report was written in Special English by Christopher Cruise from a story by Rebecca Valli in Hong Kong.