Hong Kong’s legislature has vetoed a Beijing-backed electoral reform package that claimed to address concerns for elections in the territory. Pro-democracy lawmakers voted against the package, claiming that it was a “fake” democratic model. At the centre of this debate is the upcoming 2017 election in Hong Kong, during which many residents want to be able to elect their own leader. This vote also comes on the heals of the pro-democracy demonstrations: the so called Umbrella Movement, or #OccupyCentral, in Hong Kong, that brought the territory to a standstill last year.
Beijing has been attempting to circumvent democratic sentiments in the territory by having a direct say in who is elected leader of Hong Kong. The recently rejected proposal was an attempt by Beijing to give Hong Kongers a choice of sorts: they would be able to vote for candidates, but only from a pool that had been pre-approved by Beijing.
The current pro-Beijing leadership of Hong Kong has criticized this opposition to the central government’s plans, seeking to portray dissenters as self-interested and acting against the wishes of Hong Kong’s citizens.
Hong Kong was long an outpost of the British Empire, and the 1997 transfer to China was seen by many as the final end of that empire. Many Hong Kongers were worried that they would be swallowed up by China following the transfer, with many leaving the territory prior to the handover. Due to these concerns, the UK and China agreed to the creation of the “one country, two systems” model, in which Hong Kong would be formally part of China, yet would remain regional autonomy in certain areas, including its own government.
China promised universal suffrage for Hong Kong as part of the 1997 agreement, and pro-democracy advocates are seeking to hold China to its past promises. The central government is far more confident now than it was in 1997, and is unwilling to provide the kinds of concessions to its own people that it offered to the UK to remove the last foreign presence in China.