HONG KONG – In many places around the world, a single date marks seismic events that are turning points in recent history, such as the 9/11 attacks in the US or the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November for Europe , For the post-colonial Hong Kong, the turning point fell on 31 August 2014.
At that time, a leading Chinese government agency announced a plan for limited democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing's decision fell far short of the claims of democracy protesters this summer, sparking a two-month occupation of several parts of Hong Kong known as the Umbrella Movement.
The authorities in Hong Kong have refused to give the demonstrators permission to repeat the recent clashes should the demonstration take place. The authorities objected on Friday, and the organizers of the march broke off the demonstration after they had not received the permit, although people would probably protest in some other way.
What was the decision?
The China Standing Committee The National People's Congress, a stamp legislature, passed a law five years ago on Saturday that would have allowed all adults with permanent residence in Hong Kong to vote on who the next executive director of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory will be. But there was a catch: Beijing would have a tight control over who could run.
A 1,200-member election committee made up of Beijing Loyalists is currently electing the CEO. The decision of 31 August would allow this committee to select only the candidates and then have the broad public vote on these candidates. The opponents said, however, that Beijing would still choose their leader. And indeed, Beijing said that the person who won the public vote has yet to be named director-general by the Chinese government.
The Standing Committee statement did not become law of Hong Kong because democracy-oriented lawmakers were present The Hong Kong legislature blocked the 2015 approval. Therefore, the same 1,200-member electoral committee continues to elect the CEO, with the system favoring Beijing candidates. The committee selected acting Carrie Lam in 2017 and she won with 777 votes out of 1,163 votes actually cast.
Why are the demonstrators upset about this?
Most advocates of democracy in Hong Kong have long rejected the decision as worse than nothing. "The decision of August 31 is totally unacceptable to the people of Hong Kong," said Bonnie Leung, vice chairman of one of the main protest groups, the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the Saturday demonstration. "The Director-General would have millions of votes, not a handful, but they would still be hand-picked by Beijing."
Mrs. Lam, now the head of Hong Kong and formerly the top official of the territory, tried to find a compromise during the Umbrella movement. Their compromise would have changed the composition of the Nominations Committee, in particular by reducing the large number of seats reserved for farmers and fishermen. Agriculture and fisheries today represent a tiny part of Hong Kong's population and economy.
However, Ms. Lam's compromise would still have left the nomination committee, which is responsible for voting. Advocates of Democracy rejected their proposals.
Who likes the decision of 31st August?
Some centrists in Hong Kong and Western political scientists suggested that adopting the decision of August 31 five years ago might have been helpful democratic cause and could still be a good option for the area. They argue that even if two or three Beijing allies appear on a ballot for a vote of all people in Hong Kong, those candidates would become less per Beijing during the election campaign. They could compete with each other to promise more democracy in order to get the most votes in public.
"If they want to win a popular vote, they would have to choose a policy that is closer to the political center," he told David Zweig, a long-time political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The decision of August 31 gives Beijing the final word on who will become CEO. After the parliamentary elections, Beijing would decide whether to elect the winner of the parliamentary elections as chairman of the board. If a candidate is too critical or promises Beijing too much in the election campaign, he may not be appointed, said Lau Siu-kai, vice chairman of the Hong Kong and Macao Association of China, an elite, semi-official advisory body founded by Beijing.
"Beijing does not allow anyone to appear accountable to the people of Hong Kong over its accountability to Beijing," Lau said.
Does Beijing still support the decision?
] The decision five years ago was a compromise in Beijing between moderates willing to tolerate a certain democracy in Hong Kong and hardliners less willing to admit it. The compromise should go far enough to meet Hong Kong's Democratic demands to forestall the impending occupation of the streets in the fall – a goal that could not be achieved with the compromise of resorting to violence. But Beijing has changed since then. President Xi Jinping was in office for less than two years at the time of the Standing Committee's decision and continued to consolidate power.
In the years since then, he has lifted a constitutional restriction of two terms as President, allowing him to remain in office indefinitely. He has replaced almost all leading military and security officials by loyal people. Human rights lawyers were sentenced to long prison terms and Internet usage in mainland China was more tightly controlled.
Democrats of democracy still hope that Beijing will make them a better offer. "I hope Beijing will understand if you make a concession, it's not a sign of weakness, but a sign of a great power," said Emily Lau, a democracy-oriented legislator.
However, some Beijing hard-liners over Hong Kong politics have begun to question whether concessions to democracy supporters, such as enabling parliamentary elections to control Beijing's candidates, are still needed.
Lau Siu-kai said because the Standing Committee has never overturned the decision, it remains available in the books and theory for Hong Kong.
"It's still available because it's the national law," he said, adding, "I do not see this as a possibility that the 31st of August would be accepted by the Democrats."