Hong Kong: Underlining the potential for escalating confrontation, Hong Kong pro-democracy groups have vowed to ensure the city enters an “era of civil disobedience” in protest against proposed voting reforms imposed by the Chinese government.
Braving stop-start rain under a gleaming Hong Kong skyline, thousands of demonstrators flocked to a rally organised by pro-democracy group Occupy Central outside the offices of the Legislative Council on Sunday night, where they were urged to stage mass sit-ins to cripple the city’s financial district.
It came just hours after Beijing said it would deny voters the right to publicly nominate candidates for the city’s 2017 chief executive election, pushing back against months of rallies and street demonstrations that have increasingly polarised the city.
Protesters take part in the rally for the beginning of Occupy Central movement outside Central Government Offices in Hong Kong. Photo: Getty
“This is about wanting a fair and proper election,” said web-page editor Dion Tse, 24, who attended Sunday’s rally with her 50-year-old mother, Wong Chi-yi. “The central government doesn’t respect the voice of Hong Kong people. We want them to hear our voice and to see the determination of Hong Kong people.”
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress, approved plans for the voting reform which will see two to three candidates allowed to stand in Hong Kong’s first direct election.
But with the majority approval of a 1200-strong nomination committee needed, opposition politicians said those with dissenting political views would effectively have no chance of getting on the ballot.
Protesters take part in a rally during the Ocuppy Central with Love and Peace protest at Tamar Park outside of the Hong Kong Government Building. Photo: Getty
Police estimated more than 2600 attended the rally at its peak. A heavy police presence kept watch as about 100 protesters, led by student group Scholarism, converged on the Grand Hyatt late on Sunday, where Communist Party official Li Fei was scheduled to stay after arriving from Beijing.
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai fronted a press conference with members of other organisations including the Alliance for True Democracy, Scholarism, and the Federation of Students.
Mr Tai did not give an exact date for when the blockade would take place for legal reasons, but urged participants to pay attention to developments in “the next week or two”, adding the city would official enter an “era of civil disobedience”.
Benny Tai answers questions from the media. Photo: Phil Wen
“Look at the person next to you,” he said at Sunday’s rally, standing in front of a billboard plastered with the two Chinese characters for “disobey”. “That person will be occupying Central with you!”
The convenor of Scholarism, 17-year-old Joshua Wong, said earlier that preparations for high school student strikes were underway and would dovetail with the thousands of university students also expected to boycott classes.
“In addition to our academic responsibility, we also have our social responsibility,” he said.
In Beijing, Li Fei, a deputy secretary-general of the NPC standing committee, told reporters that advocating for “international standards” on universal suffrage was a “waste of time” propagated by some Hong Kong politicians seeking to “confuse and mislead” society.
“A lot of time has been wasted before in the debate of impractical suggestions such as public nomination,” Mr Li said, insisting that the electoral method should be made in accordance with the true situation and legal framework of each society.
To become law, the universal suffrage bill will require a super-majority of two-thirds of Hong Kong’s 70-member legislature to pass, meaning the legislation could be stopped by the 27 opposition members in government.
Mr Li warned that Hong Kong could be dragged into protracted political debate if the reform proposal was vetoed.
“It would be harmful to the business environment and the city’s development,” he said.
Almost 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum organised by Occupy Central in June against China’s insistence that candidates be vetted through a committee.
As many as 172,000 people marched to push for democracy on July 1, while a pro-Beijing anti-Occupy Central march on August 17 attracted about 88,000, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong, though police and organiser estimates varied considerably.