HONG KONG – Thousands of people marched in Hong Kong on Wednesday for full democracy amid an ongoing government consultation that will reform the territory’s upcoming legislative and leadership elections.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of the annual New Year’s Day pro-democracy march, estimated the turnout at 30,000, while police put it at around 11,000.
“We want universal suffrage! Public nomination now! Step down CY!” the people chanted, referring to Beijing-backed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
“Under the ‘One country, two system’ principle, China should not interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs,” said Michael Li, 26, who works in the finance sector. “But under the current political system, there will not be real universal suffrage.”
The government is consulting the public over constitutional reform that will set the framework for the 2016 Legislative Council Elections and the 2017 chief executive election.
“Hong Kong’s people want real universal suffrage, that is a clear message,” Hong Kong’s former top civil servant Anson Chan said before joining the march. “The government has the responsibility to bring people together and listen to their voices.”
Handing out stickers saying “We are not stupid!” Chan criticized the government consultation paper for installing the criteria of “collective nomination” and “institutional nomination” that were never mentioned in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
The protesters insist that a key condition of full democracy is the right for the public to put forth names for the chief executive race.
Calls for publication nomination have irked Beijing officials, who were quick to denounce such calls as unconstitutional and against a 2007 decision by China’s core legislative body.
“If public nomination is not allowed, I may take part in the Occupy Central movement,” said Leung Yin-fan, a 65-year-old retired hospital worker, referring to a civil disobedience campaign launched last year to force the H.K. government and Beijing to bring about full democracy.
“Even if it is unlikely, we still have to fight for what we want. We must let Beijing know what Hong Kong people want. We want to be able to choose our leader, we want the right to nominate candidates to run in the chief executive election,” Leung said.
A mock referendum was held alongside the protest to gauge the public’s views on the nominating procedure for the chief executive election.
The government will submit for Beijing’s vetting a proposal after the first consultation in late 2014, which is set to be a turning point in Hong Kong’s democratic development.
“If the government proposal does not fall within the international definition of democracy, we may have to go ahead with the occupy movement,” said sociologist Chan Kin-man, one of three convenors who initiated the campaign.
As the occupy movement gained momentum last year, Beijing has launched counterattacks in the media and a propaganda campaign with various patriotic organizations.
About 30 people of the Protect Hong Kong Movement rallying along the route of Wednesday’s march drew jeers while police were busy dividing the two.
A celebration event drawing dozens of participants was held at government headquarters to show support for the Leung administration.
“Hong Kong is a multicultural city, we are here to express our support for the government but not to oppose the anti-government protest,” Patrick Ko of the Voice of Loving Hong Kong said.
The government said in a statement in response that it “calls on all sectors of the community to adopt an accommodating, rational and pragmatic approach, as well as an inclusive attitude to express views, narrow differences and forge consensus in order to implement universal suffrage for the (chief executive) election in 2017.”