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      Hong Kong Braces for Fresh Protests as Electoral Reform Vote Looms

      Hong Kong Braces for Fresh Protests as Electoral Reform Vote Looms Hong Kong Braces for Fresh Protests as Electoral Reform Vote Looms Hong Kong Braces for Fresh Protests as Electoral Reform Vote Looms
      Photo by Alex Hofford/EPA

      Asia & Pacific

      Hong Kong Braces for Fresh Protests as Electoral Reform Vote Looms

      By Sally Hayden

      With one day to go until Hong Kong's lawmakers meet to debate and vote on the highly contentious Beijing-backed electoral reform package, leaders are on high alert for more popular uprisings.

      On Monday ten people were arrested on suspicion of planning to manufacture explosives, with six of them charged on Tuesday accompanied by a warning from Hong Kong's leader Leung Chun-ying that no "illegal activities" would be tolerated, "whether these are violent or non-violent." On Sunday several thousand people marched through the city, many holding the yellow umbrellas symbolic of the pro-democracy movement.

      Nightly rallies are planned for the coming days, as well as a silent march around Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Wednesday, when the debate is due to start. Police said they would patrol inside the city's Legislative Council overnight on Tuesday, reported Reuters. A vote is due by the end of the week.

      Pro-democracy protests brought the country to a standstill late last year as a movement known as "Occupy Central" merged into the "Umbrella Revolution." Thousands of students and older citizens took to the streets and wielding yellow umbrellas as a symbol of their demand for universal suffrage and their rejection of the proposed reforms.

      China promised the people of Hong Kong a transition to universal suffrage after the UK handed control of the island back to Beijing in 1997. But Hong Kong voters can currently only directly elect 35 of the 70 members of the Legislative Council. The proposed reforms would allow a direct vote in 2017 for Hong Kong's leader — known as the chief executive — but all candidates for the post would be pre-screened and approved by a pro-Beijing nominating committee.

      Song Ru'an, a Hong Kong-based official with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday: "The Hong Kong government's proposal is democratic, open, fair and just," and furthermore that no system "would remain unchanged forever."

      A recent poll conducted by three universities suggested that a small majority of Hong Kongers were in favor of the reforms going through, but many say the proposed system would make a mockery of the universal suffrage they were promised.

      To pass, the proposed reform must receive a two-thirds majority from Hong Kong's Legislative Council, though that now looks unlikely with many pro-democracy legislators publicly declaring their intention to vote against it.

      Wilson Leung, one of the convenors of the pro-democracy Progressive Lawyers Group, told VICE News the proposals would create "a sham democracy" — but he was confident they would be voted down.

      "There are no signs of a last minute concession from Beijing and no sign of any last minute negotiations between some of the [pro-democracy legislators] and the [Chinese] central government," he said. However the failure of the bill to pass would not represent a real victory for democracy, it would simply ensure the system "stays the same and doesn't get any worse."

      Leung, whose group of around 60 lawyers formed in January and is not affiliated to any political party, said there were no definite plans for protest as of yet, but if the bill passed "I would certainly not sit back and allow the Government to triumphantly announce that it has now brought democracy to Hong Kong."

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      Edward Chin, a hedge fund manager and pro-democracy activist, told VICE News: "For Hong Kong people the quality of life has gone down since the handover, it's more polarized now than before. That's why we had the umbrella movement."

      The legislative proposals would allow Beijing to "cherry-pick the leader," he said, comparing such a system to North Korea, in that "you have the number one, Kim Jong-un, and the number two, but in the end they're both the same person."

      The ongoing battle, Chin said, was "really a matter of Hong Kong versus Beijing."

      Chin also said that he felt over the past 18 to 24 months Hong Kong's media had been under "heavy attack, heavy control under Beijing," and that this led to some deliberate scaremongering around the protests. "The whole thing is set up as a way to distort the general public [to believe] that even the most quiet and peace-abiding protest can turn into something violent."

      In September, the Hong Kong Economic Journal axed Chin's then-weekly column, a move which he said was political, though the newspaper said it was part of a redesign of the business section. He's still writing for Apple Daily — a newspaper whose former publisher was one of the leaders of the Occupy Central movement, but resigned after he was arrested for refusing to vacate one of the protest sites.

      "All I can see is that anyone who is very vocal, especially if you're in business... who want to talk about democracy, you will be silenced," said Chin.

      Along with Leung's lawyers group, various pro-democracy groups from other professions have recently sprouted up, including the Frontline Tech Workers, Nurses Political Reform Concern Group, and the Progressive Teachers' Alliance. "One major effect of the Umbrella Movement is that there have been an abundance of civil groups sprouting up to carry on the democracy fight," he said.

      "Most of the members of these groups were not active in the political scene before the 'Umbrella Movement' but the movement really changed the way we look at Hong Kong, and how we see our own role in its struggle for democracy."

      Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

      Topics: hong kong, china, asia & pacific, umbrella revolution, occupy central, umbrella movement, beijing, one country two systems, democracy, human rights

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