At the end of June, 787,000 people in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong voted in a nonbinding referendum that pushed for more democracy. The votes were cast in order to decide the means for allowing Hong Kong residents to nominate candidates for the city’s chief executive. The unexpectedly high turnout shows that citizens of Hong Kong do not like the Chinese government’s plans to reform.

In 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain, China agreed to handle the city under the thought of “one country, two systems,” where Hong Kong had a lot of autonomy, but China still has comprehensive jurisdiction over the city.

Because of this, the city has its own legal system and protection over its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The referendum became Hong Kong’s way of showing its frustration with the amount of freedom and autonomy it is hoping for in the future.

The winning proposal from the referendum was proposed by the Alliance for True Democracy, and allows candidates to be nominated by 35,000 registered voters, or by any political party that had secured at least 5 percent of the vote in the last election for Hong King’s legislative committee.

The ballot also had the option to vote that the legislature should veto any proposal that “cannot satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors,” which more than 87 percent of voters agreed to. The ballot also proposed that the public, a nominating committee and political parties could name candidates for the chief executive position.

China’s State Cabinet released a statement degrading the referendum as illegal and invalid, saying those who organized it were breaching the rule of law and holding back the process of universal suffrage. The statement also said that the chief executive for Hong Kong must be someone who loves Hong Kong as well as China.

The citizens of Hong Kong fear that the nominating committee will be a way that China can weed out whoever they disapprove of for the position, and people of Hong Kong want a process where candidates not perceived as loyal to the Chinese government can still stand a chance in the election process.

The 10-day referendum was organized by a group called Occupy Central with Peace and Love, and it proposed planning sit-ins and other nonviolent protests if the election rules don’t meet what it considers “international standards.”

Chen Jianmin, one of the founders of Occupy Central, believes the protests could soon turn violent. Speaking of this possibility, he said: “We have been witnessing more and more physical confrontation during protests and I believe that more young people are willing to go to jail or even to confront the police and the government with their own bodies.”

July 1, 2014 marked the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China, and this day each year tens of thousands of people march the streets of Hong Kong for the annual pro-democracy rally.

Protesters marched the street, criticizing the leadership of Hong Kong’s current chief executive, CY Leung, seeing him as a “Beijing loyalist.” The city is planning on reaching a full democracy by 2017.

One protestor states: “I am here to fight for democracy and freedom. If Hong Kong people did not come out to fight for our freedom, we would lose it in the future.”

Some marchers even held up Hong Kong’s colonial flag, used before 1997 when Hong Kong was a British colony, in order to show their anti-China beliefs.

Occupy Central has stated that if the Hong Kong government does not come up with a proposal for the 2017 election that meets the international standards for democracy, the group will get 10,000 people for a sit-in protest in Hong Kong’s financial district. A protest like this could harm the economic development of Hong Kong, as well as mainland China, making it a legitimate threat.

— Courtney Prentice

Sources: LA Times, BBC 1, BBC 2,
Photo: BBC