HONG KONG – The Hong Kong government published a long-awaited electoral blueprint for selecting the city’s next leader on Wednesday, a plan enshrining China’s desire for a tightly controlled poll that has angered activists and stoked talk of fresh protests.
The government proposal follows huge pro-democracy demonstrations last year in one of the boldest populist challenges to Beijing’s Communist Party rule since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Analysts said the conservative blueprint, which lawmakers will vote on early in summer — could again stir political tensions in the financial hub after a lull of several months.
More than a hundred democracy protesters denounced the blueprint outside the legislature, rejecting calls by Hong Kong’s leader Leung Chun-ying to accept the package as the best possible model for universal suffrage from Beijing.
“As of now, we see no room for any compromise,” Leung told reporters. “To initiate any political reform process is not easy. If this proposal is vetoed, it could be several years before the next opportunity.”
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators blocked major roads in four key districts in Hong Kong last year, demanding Beijing grant a truly democratic vote and open nominations for Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017.
Their pleas were ignored, however, and police cleared away the last of the so-called Umbrella Revolution encampments in mid-December.
The blueprint for the proposal that the public vote on two or three candidates pre-selected by a 1,200-member pro-Beijing nominating committee was first outlined by China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, last August.
The Hong Kong government stood by that blueprint, saying it was disregarding suggestions that did not conform to the city’s mini-constitution and the NPC decision.
Democratic lawmakers, wearing black jerseys with yellow crosses to symbolize their pledge to oppose any plan smacking of “fake universal suffrage,” walked out of the legislative chamber in protest on Wednesday.
Standing before reporters, most of the city’s 27 opposition legislators, who hold a one-third veto bloc in the 70-person chamber, said they would vote against the package.
Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement, said if the government did manage to get the framework passed it could unleash a fresh wave of protests.
“It is highly likely that this will trigger protests, whether occupying roads or civil disobedience,” said the bespectacled Wong outside government headquarters, where a small group of die-hard activists have remained camped out.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told reporters she was unworried.
“We believe that after announcing the specific proposals there will be political parties and organizations and groups which may resort to more aggressive protests, but we don’t think that such a large scale occupation will happen again,” she said, in reference to last year’s 79-day street protests.
While Hong Kong is part of China, it is governed as a special administrative region, which means it has a different legal system and freedoms not permitted in the mainland.
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