Hong Kong protest

Joe Meadway reports from Hong Kong, where thousands have occupied the area outside the government headquarters in protest at plans to restrict candidates in the upcoming elections

Founded in January 2013 by a Law Professor at the University of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is currently undergoing a review of the electoral process for the Chief Executive, with the new system being introduced for the 2017 elections. It has been promised that these elections would being ‘universal suffrage’, and that every permanent resident of Hong Kong would be eligible to vote. The movement was started in anticipation that the reforms would be inadequate, and in response, protestors should shut down the Central district of Hong Kong, the financial and commercial heart of the city.

The main point of contention is regarding the selection of candidates. A nominated list of candidates would be put forward for election, and voters would be allowed to pick for any of these – and would have no way of nominating candidates themselves. Further, Qiao Xiaoyang, chair of the Natonal People’s Congress Law Committee stated that every candidate would have to love both the country (China), and Hong Kong – this was seen as a tacit bar on any pro-democracy candidates. It was later confirmed that candidates would be restricted to those supportive of the Beijing government. 

Occupy Central has run several consultations and votes on its policies and tactics. During June 2014 a poll was run asking people to vote on what electoral system should be presented as the alternative to Beijing’s proposals – all three options (which were again voted for from a longlist) involved direct public selection of candidates. Just under 800,000 people voted online or in booths, and the final proposal was for a hybrid between allowing public nomination, nomination from a committee, and nomination from within established political parties as being the three ways of proposing candidates.

Tensions have been rising throughout the summer, starting with the publication of Beijing’s first white paper on the status of Hong Kong within China, which pointedly mentioned that Hong Kong enjoys freedoms that the rest of the country does not, and that these freedoms are at the discretion of the central government.

Following the Occupy-organised vote, a counter movement ‘Sign for Peace and Democracy’ organised a city-wide petition protesting against the plan to close down Central, citing the impact on business, and Hong Kong’s international reputation. It gathered 1 million signatures, but rumours (and so much of what has been going on over the past few months has been rumour and hearsay) circulated that people were being ordered by their employers to sign, that they were being promised time off work to sign, or in danger of losing their job if they didn’t.

The protests that started this week were not in fact organised by Occupy Central. They started from a student strike led by Scholarism, a protest movement that formed out of protests against a new curriculum that was seen to be an overtly political and nationalistic imposition form the mainland government.

The strike was due to last a week and run up to Occupy Central, which was scheduled to start on National Day, 1st October. As the week progressed, the strike became more dynamic, with 4000 marching to the residence of CY Leung, the current Chief Executive, and reports of violence against protestors.

On Friday 27th, protestors stormed into the LegCo building, leading to pepper spray being used, and the arrests of the leaders of the student groups. (Their houses were also later searched, their relatives questioned, and one, Joshua Wong, still being held over 36 hours later)

The turning point was the night of Saturday 28th – the student protests grew, and there was a very large police presence. Protestors were handing out cling film and masks to block pepper spray, and umbrellas were held up in the front of police in anticipation of spray being used. But it was all peaceful. And then, after midnight, the leaders of Occupy Central surprised everyone by announcing the start of the occupation. 

A recent survey of 1,000 Cantonese speaking residents by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that 53.7% of people think LegCo should reject the current reform proposals, and 29.3% think it should be approved. 31.3% “strongly” or “quite strongly” supported the occupy movement, vs. 46.4% who did not support it. Anecdotally, it seems that the anti-Occupy message that shutting down Central would do more damage to Hong Kong than good seems to have taken hold – this the most commonly heard reason for not supporting the protest.

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