(Reuters) - China’s rubber-stamp parliament is expected on Sunday to endorse the framework for Hong Kong’s first direct leadership election, due in 2017. [ID:nL3N0R002V] But Beijing is likely to only allow two or three “patriotic” candidates, with no open nominations. That will anger pro-democracy activists who have threatened civil disobedience, potentially disrupting Hong Kong’s major financial hub.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, endorsed by China, enshrines the principle of “one country, two systems” to govern capitalist Hong Kong after the former British colony was returned to Communist Chinese rule in 1997.
HOW MUCH SAY DOES CHINA HAVE OVER HONG KONG’S AFFAIRS?
China’s highest legal authority, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), has the final say over any interpretation or amendment of the Basic Law - and therefore all democratic and electoral reforms in Hong Kong.
This right has only been exercised a handful of times since the handover, each time sparking widespread criticism that Beijing was interfering in Hong Kong’s judicial affairs.
Any proposed electoral framework for the 2017 leadership poll must be endorsed by two-thirds of Hong Kong’s legislature and finally, by the NPCSC.
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong is promised “a high degree of autonomy” as well as “executive, legislative and independent judicial power.” It also states that the “socialist system and policies shall not be practiced” in Hong Kong, while “the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years” - until 2047.
While the Basic Law says universal suffrage is the “ultimate aim”, Beijing hadn’t previously detailed specific arrangements for the 2017 poll. This is the first time detailed parameters for that election of Hong Kong’s chief executive will have been laid out.
The Basic Law states that any chief executive must first be nominated by a “broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” This has given Beijing some leeway to pre-screen candidates it deems unacceptable, including opposition lawmakers.
Hong Kong’s Occupy Central activists, however, have threatened to shut down the city’s financial district in a mass campaign of civil disobedience if Beijing imposes any “unreasonable restrictions” on the right to stand for election.
Hong Kong’s democratic movement has battled Beijing since 1997 to realize a truly democratic election that offers people a genuine choice. The democrats say Beijing’s pre-screening of candidates is unfair and tantamount to Chinese-style “fake democracy”, rendering any direct vote meaningless.
Hong Kong’s three post-handover chief executives have all been chosen by a small election committee stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists drawn mostly from business sectors.
For the last chief executive election in 2012, all candidates had to secure at least 150 votes - one eighth of the 1,200-person election committee - in order to run. An opposition democrat, Albert Ho, managed to just scrape enough votes to get on the ballot as one of three candidates, but eventually lost to incumbent Leung Chun-ying by a landslide.
For the 2017 election, China is expected to substantially tighten the nomination threshold from one-eighth to a half of the committee’s votes, making it next to impossible for democrats to get on the ballot.
The nominating committee for 2017 is likely be similar in composition to the election committee, comprised of largely four sectors; commercial, the professions, labor and political.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers, who make up just over a one-third bloc of seats in the 70-seat legislature, say such a framework is unacceptable and plan to veto it.
Compiled by James Pomfret; Editing by Ian Geoghegan