Students from universities and colleges abandoned classes and gathered in the grounds of the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Monday in protest of last month’s decision by the Chinese government to rule out a fully democratic election.
The student strike is the start of a week-long boycott in response to Beijing’s proposal that the 2017 elections for the leader of the city’s government, the Chief Executive, would allow residents a direct vote but involve a screening process that removes candidates deemed unsuitable for the position by Beijing.
Activists have argued pro-Beijing loyalists would dominate the screening committee and they see Beijing’s ruling as going against the “one person, one vote” principle that had been promised to Hong Kong when it was handed back from Britain to China in 1997.
According to the New York Times, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the acting president of the student union of Lingnan University told crowds the boycott is just the “first wave of resistance,” and said, “Today is not the last step for us all. It’s the first step, and countless resistance campaigns will bear fruit.”
The reason behind the disputes
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1 July 1997 and it has been governed with a different political system from Mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems”. This means that Hong Kong residents have enjoyed civil liberties, which are denied in the rest of China.
The leading document in the law of Hong Kong is The Basic Law, which serves as a constitution for Hong Kong. It was adopted on 4 April 1990 by the National People’s Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China and went into effect on 1 July 1997.
Disputes over how the Chief Executive is elected have been on-going for many years, currently the leader is chosen by a 1,200-member committee but Basic Law, Article 45 says that the ultimate goal is election by universal suffrage. This would give all adult residents the right to vote, unrestricted by race, sex, belief, wealth or social status and be a significant step forward in the democratic development of Hong Kong.
In 2007 Chief Executive, Donald Tsang gave hope to the citizens of Hong Kong by announcing that the NPC said it planned to allow the 2017 Chief Executive elections and the 2020 Legislative Council elections to take place by universal suffrage. But on 31 August 2014, China proposed that a nomination committee in Beijing would select the candidates that could run for elections in 2017 preventing Hong Kong from becoming a full democracy. It has been speculated that China is cautious about the liberties given to Hong Kong as it could cause demands from residents on the mainland.
Occupy Central, a group of democracy activists in Hong Kong, are planning a larger protest on 1 October. Their goal is to stage a protest in the city’s business district, Central, and insist the protest will be non-violent.