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Hong Kong’s Legislature Rejects Beijing-Backed Election Plan

Jun 19 , 2015

After months of debate and public protests (most notably last year’s ‘Umbrella Movement,’ where protestors occupied streets in Hong Kong’s government and shopping districts), Hong Kong’s election reform plan went before the Legislative Council. The plan needed a two-thirds majority to pass; pan-democrats had pledged to vote as a bloc to defeat it. In the end, the pan-democrats were able to do one better: the plan will go down in history with majority voting against the reforms. Thanks to a last-minute walk-out by much of the pro-Beijing camp, the plan was defeated 28-8, with 34 legislators not voting.

The plan’s defeat was not surprising. The pan-democrats had the numbers to prevent the reforms from passing and they had unanimously vowed to do so. The reform package would require all candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive to be approved by the majority of a 1,200-person nominating committee, stocked with pro-business (and pro-Beijing) members. Pan-democrats argued that effectively gave Beijing veto power over who could even run for Hong Kong’s highest office. Those in favor of the bill, however, countered that it’s the only realistic way forward toward giving Hong Kong universal suffrage in chief executive elections. Currently, the chief executive is chosen by the nominating committee, with the public having no say.

While the defeat of the bill was in line with pan-democrat promises, the means by which it occurred was unexpected – and odd. As Isabella Steger and Jacky Wong described for the Wall Street Journal, a group of pro-establishment lawmakers asked for a recess just after voting began. Their request was denied, but many of them left anyway – though not enough of them to deny quorum for the vote. The legislators who left explained that they had wanted to delay the vote to give one more member of their camp, Lau Wong-fat, extra time to make it. While the bill was expected to be defeated, it was expected to at least record majority support – something the walk-out prevented from happening. Interestingly, Xinhua’s main story on the vote neglected to mention the final tally, only noting (correctly) that 28 out of 70 total legislators had cast votes against, not that only eight votes had been in favor.

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