Results of Sunday’s poll could color relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing for years to come
By MIA LAMAR and CHESTER YUNG
The wall Street Journal
Sept. 2, 2016 11:32 p.m. ET
HONG KONG—A fractured pro-democracy camp here faces its first public test Sunday since street protests seeking greater political autonomy gripped this city two years ago.
Hong Kong voters are heading to the polls to elect a fresh slate of lawmakers for the 70-member Legislative Council for the first time since the Occupy protests of late 2014. At the time, thousands of citizens of this former British colony—which has partial autonomy from the Communist Party-ruled mainland under a “one country, two systems” policy—blocked main thoroughfares for 79 days, angered by the unwillingness of Beijing and the Hong Kong government to let them nominate their own candidates for the territory’s top official in 2017.
Those protests ended without budging the government’s stance. Instead, they left widening divisions between those in Hong Kong who want to work with Chinese leaders to make the city’s government more democratic and a spate of new groups espousing everything from greater autonomy to independence from the mainland. The Demosisto Party, for instance, champions “political and economic autonomy from the oppression of the Communist Party of China and capitalist hegemony,” according to its website, and is fielding in the election a 23-year-old college student who was one of the leaders of the Occupy protests.
The results of Sunday’s poll, where representatives from some of those new parties are running for the first time, could color the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing for years to come.
Wins by pro-independence candidates could show such ideas have traction in the territory, as well as heighten tensions with the mainland, which has labeled such groups dangerous secessionists. The government barred several candidates calling for Hong Kong’s complete independence from China from running in Sunday’s election.
The fragmentation of the pro-democracy groups means they could lose seats and ultimately the ability to veto legislation proposed by a more numerous group of pro-Beijing lawmakers.
“This is an important election,” said Dixon Sing, a political analyst who teaches at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It remains uncertain if the city’s pro-democracy parties would be able to retain…veto power.”
Without that power, pro-Beijing legislators could enact legislation to prohibit acts of subversion against the mainland government or could take away the ability to filibuster, which democracy advocates have used to slow legislation they don’t like, political observers say.
Just over half of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, is selected by popular vote, while the rest is chosen by constituencies that represent largely pro-Beijing and business interests. That has meant comfortable majorities for mainland-friendly politicians and policies. During the last election four years ago, pro-democracy candidates won 27 seats—not enough to sway legislation but just over the one-third number needed to veto bills.
Recently, the ballooning gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, combined with signs that the mainland is trying to tighten its grip over the territory, have prompted dissatisfaction with the government and the political system.
A proposal to let Hong Kong citizens vote for the territory’s chief executive but limit candidates to a list vetted by a pro-China committee sparked the Occupy protests. Pro-democracy lawmakers blocked that change last year, leaving in place a system whereby a pro-Beijing committee selects the city’s leader.
Some Hong Kongers and foreign governments have expressed concern about Beijing’s encroachment since the disappearance last year of five Hong Kong residents affiliated with a publisher of gossipy books on Chinese politicians, which are banned in the mainland. The five surfaced in China, where officials said they had voluntarily traveled and aided various investigations. In June, however, one of the booksellers who returned to Hong Kong said he had been abducted and detained for selling works deemed subversive.
Pro-establishment parties are also facing an uphill climb in Sunday’s election because of the unpopularity of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration. Mr. Leung was selected in March 2012 for a five-year term by a largely pro-Beijing committee of business and political elites. It is unclear if he will run for re-election next year.
Write to Mia Lamar at firstname.lastname@example.org and Chester Yung at email@example.com
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