China’s legislature on Sunday denied fully democratic elections to Hong Kong in a move that could spark mass protests in the city’s streets.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled that nominees for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 would still have to obtain approval from 50 percent of a mostly pro-Beijing committee. The financial center’s pro-democracy movement had pushed for minimal involvement from China in both the nomination and election process.
One pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong told the New York Times that the city’s residents feel "betrayed."
"After having lied to Hong Kong people for so many years, it finally revealed itself today," said Alan Leong. "Hong Kong people are right to feel betrayed. It’s certain now that the central government will be effectively appointing Hong Kong’s chief executive."
China regained administrative control of the former British colony in 1997. Hong Kong has since operated under a "one country, two systems" agreement that grants it more civil liberties and local freedoms than the mainland, making it a potential flashpoint in the clashes between Beijing and pro-democracy groups.
The group Occupy Central now says it will stage nonviolent demonstrations in Hong Kong to protest the new electoral rules.
Democratic members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council could still attempt to block implementation of the electoral changes, which require approval by a two-thirds majority. However, the city’s current chief executive—loyal to Beijing—warned that not passing the rules could bar residents from voting at all.
Hong Kong’s chief executive is currently selected by a 1,200-member election committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. Under the new guidelines, residents can vote for their leader but only after the nominees receive approval from at least half of the committee.
Ellen Bork, director of democracy and human rights for the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), previously told the Washington Free Beacon that the United States and other Western democracies should speak out in support of fully democratic elections in Hong Kong.
"The question is whether the real democracies are willing to stand up for Hong Kong’s people who have repeatedly and overwhelmingly showed they want to choose their own leaders, not be governed by Beijing’s proxies," she said.
The Hong Kong ruling comes amid a widening crackdown on dissent by Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s communist leaders likely feared that more democratic elections in Hong Kong could prompt calls for more freedoms on the mainland, analysts say.