Lawmakers in Hong Kong rejected a proposed election plan by the enclave’s pro-Beijing government Thursday, offering a symbolic victory to pro-democracy protesters and raising the stakes for more political confrontations.
The vote also showed the deep splits after a wave of unprecedented street demonstrations last year opposing Beijing’s controls in the former British colony, which was handed over to Chinese control in 1997.
Anticipating defeat, lawmakers backing the government walked out of the chamber shortly before the vote — effectively giving opponents of the election plan a clear path to make their stand following two days of debate.
In the balance was a proposal that would have allowed Hong Kong voters to directly pick their top official in 2017 from a slate of candidates vetted by China. Many protesters, however, had rejected any hand by Beijing in the election process, claiming it trampled the former colony’s traditions of political openness.
Chinese authorities had warned they will not consider additional reforms if the vote failed, elevating the changes for more political standoffs and possible protests in one of Asia’s financial hubs.
Nearly three months of occupy-style demonstrations closed roads and touched off clashes with security forces before the protest camps were cleared. It marked the most serious challenge to Beijing’s influence over affairs in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists cheered the vote by lawmakers and some signaled it could begin a new round of pressure against authorities.
“Today is not the end of the democracy movement,” said lawmaker Alan Leong. “Quite the contrary, this is the starting point of another wave of democratic movement.”
Hong Kong’s current leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, said he was “disappointed” with the defeat and suggested it killed chances for more dialogue on possible political concessions during the remaining two years in his term.
In Beijing, state-run media heaped scorn on the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong.
“All who cast the no vote might feel smug today but they eventually must face up to their historical duties,” said the pro-government Global Times. “History will not judge what they did today to be glorious.”