Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 1 News List

HK leader warns against protests before reform talks


Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) yesterday warned against fresh democracy protests ahead of the next step in the territory’s contentious political reform process, saying the authorities would not bow to “coercive action.”

The government is to launch a second round of public consultation today on the process for electing Hong Kong’s next chief executive.

China has pledged Hong Kong will be able to choose its own leader for the first time in 2017, but it has ruled that candidates must be screened by a loyalist committee — a decision that sparked more than two months of pro-democracy rallies.

The new consultation will be the first official reform exercise since the authorities cleared the main pro-democracy protest camps last month.

However, campaigners are pessimistic that any meaningful proposals will be on the table.

Leung reiterated the government’s position yesterday and said any voting system would stick to the framework laid down by China.

“If we really want to implement universal suffrage on 2017, we ... should not do anything that threatens the Hong Kong government or the Central Government,” Leung told reporters.

He said that the process must stick to the territory’s constitution and that “coercive actions that are illegal or disrupt social order” would not change anything.

The public should take a “legal, rational and pragmatic” approach in expressing opinions, Leung added.

However, pro-democracy Hong Kong Legislator Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒) said the consultation would be “a large-scale propaganda exercise.”

“Those coming from the democratic camp will be able to enter [as candidates], but they will never be able to be selected for election,” he said.

“The government will try to create an impression that we have a lot of room to discuss how candidates of different persuasions can enter the race, but the nominating committee will still do the gatekeeping,” political analyst Ma Ngok (馬嶽) said.

At their height, the pro-democracy rallies saw tens of thousands take to the streets demanding fully free elections, but authorities in both Hong Kong and Beijing consistently branded the protests “illegal.”

The protests failed to change the Beijing decision in August last year that required all leadership candidates to be vetted.

That decision was made after the Hong Kong government sent a report to Beijing following the first round of consultation — heavily criticized by democracy campaigners, who said it failed to reflect public sentiment.

The new round of consultation is expected to put forward specific proposals on mechanisms to select candidates.

Leung said it would be “less broad,” without giving any details.

It comes as the Hong Kong government continues to clamp down on activists.

On Monday, the Hong Kong Department of Justice put forward court applications to formally charge 20 activists for obstructing bailiffs clearing the protest camp in Mongkok district in November last year.

Dozens of other protest leaders, including founder of the Occupy movement Benny Tai (戴耀廷) and student leader Alex Chow (周永康), have been requested to turn themselves in to police, according to local media.

The government is due to send an official report on the democracy movement to Beijing as soon as yesterday.

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