China to veto free vote in Hong Kong

HONG Kong’s simmering summer of discontent will become hotter still tomorrow when Beijing is expected to recommend restricting the first direct elections for the Chinese-controlled financial hub’s leader, stepping up chances of a showdown with democracy groups.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Cheeying, who has supported prodemocracy groups, has found himself at the heart of an anticorruption investigation. Picture: Reuters

Hong Kong has been the scene of escalating tensions over the past year after activists threatened a mass sit-in, paralysing the financial district, if Beijing ruled out genuine democratic reforms.

While both sides agree that residents should be allowed to elect the territory’s leader, the chief executive, starting in 2017, they are deadlocked over how to choose candidates.

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The pro-democracy contingent wants the public to be able to nominate people freely, but Communist leaders in Beijing have refused, insisting an elite body must vet candidates who, above all, must be patriotic to China.

China’s legislature is expected to address the issue directly for the first time tomorrow by issuing guidelines that are expected to hold to that stance.

The standing committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing will recommend that voters choose from up to three candidates named by a nominating body, with the public getting no say.

Democracy activists are threatening to fight back, with the major Occupy Central movement pledging waves of protest that could culminate in a last-ditch rally with least 10,000 demonstrators blocking streets in Central, the financial district and symbolic heart of the city.

After China regained control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, it agreed to let it maintain a high degree of control over its own affairs under the principle of “one country, two systems”.

However, the restrictions on candidates appear to reflect president Xi Jinping’s concerns that a genuine election could erode party control over the territory that it exercises through political and business elites.

Restrictions on the territory’s first direct elections are needed to protect the interests of the tycoons who control big chunks of Hong Kong’s economy, in order to safeguard its position as a capitalist hub, said Wang Zhenmin, a legal scholar and member of a committee overseeing Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

“Less perfect universal suffrage is better than no universal suffrage,” he added. “Leave some room for future growth.”