Hong Kong, Beijing at odds ahead of chief executive election
By ANN News Desk
09 March 2017

HONG KONG (The Straits Times/ANN NEWS DESK) - Protests planned ahead of Hong Kong's chief executive election on March 26 are just one sign of growing distrust between Beijing and ordinary Hong Kongers. 

In a move that could escalate tensions between Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp and Beijing, the organiser of the annual July 1 mass rally plans to mount a blockade of the polling centre for the chief executive election on March 26.

Au Nok Hin told The Straits Times that the Civil Human Rights Front is planning to mobilise activists from 40 organisations to stop the 1,194 members of the Election Committee (EC) from entering the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Polling Day.

This year's leadership election, the first since the massive Occupy street protests rocked the city in 2014, will see a three-way fight involving former financial chief John Tsang, 65, former chief secretary Carrie Lam, 59, and retired judge Woo Kwok Hing, 70.

Hong Kong's next chief executive will be picked by the EC, which is packed with Beijing loyalists. A candidate needs at least 601 votes to win, but the outcome of the race is widely seen to have been determined by the central government in Beijing.

Lam, seen as Beijing's preferred candidate, secured 580 nominations to run, compared with 165 for Tsang and 180 for Woo. The qualifying threshold is 150.

Au, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front, said yesterday that the group wants Hong Kongers to have the right to choose their next leader. "Many people see this as an unjust election system because the 'small-circle' Election Committee does not represent Hong Kongers. Therefore, we need to stop them," said the 29-year-old.

Au is hoping that more than 10,000 protesters will turn up this year.

"If we have a massive turnout, we would be able to block EC members from entering the polling station, without having to physically restrain them," added Au, who said he does not intend to get prior approval from the police, as required by law.

Changes to pre-election screening in 2014 prompted the massive “Occupy” movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, that saw thousands of Hong Kongers occupy large swathes of the city between September and December 2014. 

Beijing’s heavy-handed attitude towards the elector reform has also created a nascent movement especially amongst youth. A July 2016 survey by The Chinese University of Hong Kong's Centre for Communication and Public Opinion found that 17.4% of Hong Kongers – 1 in 6 – supported independence from China. While the number may be small, prior to 2014 the discussion of independence was almost unheard of even amongst youth. 

The kidnapping of Hong Kong booksellers whose shop sold books banned in the mainland in late 2015 further stoked fears that China would not respect the Hong Kong Basic Law in the future, its mini constitution guaranteeing Western-style rights and freedoms. The booksellers are widely believed to have been kidnapped by Chinese security forces. 

Prior to reunification, China agree to allow Hong Kong to maintain its own separate system of governance and a market economy until 2047 under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. 

While the 2014 Occupy movement was relatively peaceful like most Hong Kong protests, Beijing has said it will not tolerate an independence movement. At the annual National People’s Congress this week, Zhng Dejiang, China's No. 3 leader and its top official for Hong Kong affairs, gave a clear warning that Beijing would not tolerate any attempt at secession.

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