Hong Kong to begin political reform consultation

Pro-democracy activists release yellow balloons and hold signs saying "I want genuine universal suffrage" on New Year's Eve in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 31 December 2014 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Pro-democracy campaigners have continued to call for political reform. The banners read "I want genuine universal suffrage"

The Hong Kong government is due to begin a second round of consultation on how the territory's leader is elected.

It comes after more than two months of pro-democracy protests, which drew tens of thousands at their peak.

China's government has agreed to public elections for Hong Kong's leader for the first time in 2017, but wants to maintain control over who can run.

Pro-democracy legislators have vowed to veto any government proposals that fall short of "genuine" democracy.

The consultation is the latest step in Hong Kong's public debate on how its leader should be elected.

It comes a day after Hong Kong's government submitted a report on the political situation in Hong Kong, including the pro-democracy protests, to Beijing.

The report said that "constitutional development has been an extremely controversial issue" and that a "series of unlawful rallies" had "aroused widespread concern in the community".

In a reference to the public protests, Hong Kong leader CY Leung warned that "coercive actions that are illegal or disrupt social order" would not sway the Chinese government.

However, the report was criticised by pro-democracy campaigners and academics, who said it did not reflect public demands for democracy.

Several lawmakers ripped up copies of the report, AP news agency reported.

Police summon protesters

Earlier this week, Hong Kong police summoned more than 30 people they said were involved in organising the pro-democracy protests, local media reported.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Leader CY Leung said campaigners "should not do anything that threatens the Hong Kong government or the central government".

Those summoned, including pro-democracy activists and student leaders, are expected to be investigated for unlawful assembly and obstructing bailiffs, reports say.

Mass protests began in September as demonstrators occupied roads in three key areas of Hong Kong.

Numbers were high in the early stages, with huge crowds on the streets, but later dwindled to a smaller core of protesters. The sit-ins were criticised by some residents and businesses, who said they were hurting the economy.

The protest sites were eventually dismantled by police in December.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Student leader Lester Shum criticised the government report, saying officials had ignored key issues

Hong Kong is governed by China under the principle of "one country, two systems", which gives the territory its own legal system and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says that "the ultimate aim" is to elect the chief executive "by universal suffrage".

China's top decision-making body issued a ruling in August, stating that voters could choose Hong Kong's leader in elections in 2017, but that there should only be two to three candidates, chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

To enable public elections in 2017, the Hong Kong government needs to pass a political reform package in the territory's legislative council, following the second round of public consultation.

However, pro-democracy lawmakers hold enough seats for a veto, and have vowed to vote down any package that is based on the Chinese government's ruling. They say the central government's requirements restrict who can run, and do not constitute real democracy.

If the political reforms are voted down, Hong Kong's current system, where the leader is chosen by an election committee of 1,200 people, will continue.

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