|Part of Hong Kong-Mainland China conflict|
Democracy protesters on 13 January 2008 demanding universal suffrage by 2012
|Date||1952 - ongoing|
|Participants||HK Government, HK Legislative Council, pro-democracy camp, people of Hong Kong|
|Democratic development in Hong Kong|
|Yale Romanization||H?ung góng màhn jyú wahn duhng|
|Jyutping||Hoeng1 gong2 man4 zyu2 wan6 dung6|
Democratic and human rights have been major issues since the transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997. The one country, two systems principle allows the Hong Kong government to administer all areas of government except foreign relations and (military) defence separately from the national Chinese government. Many Hong Kong citizens became concerned about democratic development when the first Chief executive of Hong Kong Tung Chee-hwa appeared to have mishandled this issue. Other democracy-related issues involving human rights and universal suffrage (in this case the right to elect Hong Kong leaders through general elections under universal suffrage with no curtailment from the central government of China) became the new focal point for the pro-democracy camp. Attempts to bring Hong Kong citizens to the negotiating table by the British during the Sino-Anglo discussions were rejected by Beijing in the late 1980s. The last governor Chris Patten faced a great deal of opposition in changing the former colony's political system. However, China has been criticized for infringement of the "one country, two systems" policy.
Since the election of Leung Chun-ying as Chief Executive in 2012, democratic development has come to a halt. The Umbrella Revolution was triggered by students disaffected by the continued stalling by Beijing, and particularly the pronouncement of the NPCSC on 31 August 2014 that said Hong Kong had to accept an electoral process for the Chief Executive in 2017 in which up to three candidates would be pre-approved by the Election Committee - an electoral college widely seen to be loyal to Beijing authorities.
Politics and government|
of Hong Kong
|Related topics Hong Kong portal|
In 1856, then governor Sir John Bowring proposed that the constitution of the Legislative Council be changed to increase membership to 13 members, of whom five would be elected by landowners enjoying rents exceeding 10 pounds. This timid attempt at an extremely limited form of democracy (there were only 141 such electors, of whom half were non-British):164 was rejected by the Colonial Office on the basis that Chinese residents had no respect "for the main principles upon which social order rests.":43
Popular grassroots movements were regarded as being greatly discomforting by the authorities. When Asian workers rioted in 1884 after some of their number were fined for refusing to work for French traders, the Peace Preservation Ordinance was enacted, outlawing membership of any organisation deemed "incompatible with the peace and good order of the colony".:376:84 Censorship was imposed on the press.:88
Hong Kong's non-elites repeatedly demonstrated their political engagement. They showed their unwillingness to come under government controls and took strike action frequently to protect their freedoms. General and coolie strikes erupted in 1844, 1858, 1862, 1863, 1872, 1888 and 1894.:87,89
In June 1896, then governor Sir William Robinson sought the direct views of residents on the proposed membership of the Sanitary Board. In the plebiscite taken of British residents, which excluded members of the Imperial and Civil Services, the vast majority favoured a board with a majority of members elected by residents. The plebiscite was seen by the Secretary of State as a threat to the Crown Colony status of Hong Kong and ignored. Robinson flatly rejected it despite having initiated it, concluding that direct administration of the services could be "more effectively dealt with" by government than by an elected board.:470
In response to the Chinese revolution, the Societies Ordinance was passed, which required registration of all organisations and resurrected the key test seen in the 1884 legislation for ruling them unlawful. The ordinance went further than its predecessor by explicitly targeting chambers of commerce. The administration was particularly concerned about suppressing any activity which might contribute to Hong Kong playing an active role in the tumult across the border. The ordinance banned the free association of workers in unions, imposing restrictive bureaucracy on registration and stringent monitoring of meetings proposed.:84-85
In the 1920s, workers were organised through labour-contractors who, in parallel with the trading system which enriched the all-powerful compradors, provided a communication channel between the management of foreign hongs and their workers, but entirely for the benefit of the labour contractors. Workers were powerless and roundly exploited under the system.:85-86
In 1946, shortly after the war, critical voices were raised against colonialism. Governor Sir Mark Young proposed a 48-member Municipal Council with significant competence to govern, one-third elected by non-Chinese, one third by Chinese institutions and one-third by Chinese individuals, known as the "Young Plan", believing that, "to counter the Chinese government's determination to recover Hong Kong, it was necessary to give local inhabitants a greater stake in the territory by widening the political franchise to include them." The reform failed because of much resistance from expatriate companies, a new conservative and mistrustful governor, and London's fears of Hong Kong becoming a political battleground between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Alexander Grantham took over as Governor in 1947, after Sir Mark Young resigned due to ill health. Grantham, a civil servant of many years' standing, was not a supporter of democratic reforms in Hong Kong. Grantham considered Young's plan ill-conceived  as he mistrusted the Chinese and doubted their loyalty to Britain and the Crown. He could not see the Young Plan changing that. He blocked the reform process and redrafted the proposals in a two-year stalemate.
When Mao Zedong's communists defeated the nationalists in the Chinese Civil War, democratic reform in Hong Kong was no longer a priority for London. The Foreign Office was concerned not so much that the Central People's Government would object to democratic changes in Hong Kong, but that Grantham's plan would give them reason to complain that the reforms were "undemocratic". British-educated lawyer and unofficial legislator Man-kam Lo revised the proposals of 1949 with much support from Grantham. This alternative to the Young Plan, at first approved by the British Government at the end of 1950, was then shelved in 1951 at the recommendation of the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office was concerned that reform at the height of the Korean War would trigger propaganda campaigns by the Communists and could be used by them as an excuse to reclaim Hong Kong.
By 1952, the post-war recession began to take its toll on Hong Kong and the 1946 pledge of wide self-determination was forgotten. Grantham convinced London to scrap all plans for political reform on the basis that it did not "interest the British electorate". Later, when confronted by the Hong Kong public, he blamed London. All major democratic reforms for Hong Kong were dropped by British Cabinet decision. In October 1952, the British Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttelton announced that the time was "inopportune for...constitutional changes of a major character".
Ultimately, however, Governor Grantham allowed minor reform proposals  and, as a result, two pre-war existing seats in the virtually powerless Urban Council were directly elected in 1952; this was doubled to four the following year. In 1956, the body became semi-elected but on a restricted franchise, which had expanded from some 9,000 registered voters in 1952 to only about 250,000 eligible voters 14 years later. Eligibility reached about half a million in 1981 but only 34,381 bothered to register,:224 probably on account of the fact that the body's powers extended only to cleaning, running bathhouses and public lavatories, hawker control, supervising beaches, burying the dead, and the like.
Records declassified in 2014 show discussions about self-government between British and Hong Kong governments resumed in 1958, prompted by the British expulsion from India and growing anti-colonial sentiment in the remaining Crown Colonies. Zhou Enlai, representing the CPC at the time, warned, however, that this "conspiracy" of self-governance would be a "very unfriendly act" and that the CPC wished the present colonial status of Hong Kong to continue. China was facing increasing isolation in a Cold War world and the party needed Hong Kong for contacts and trade with the outside world.
China's leaders explicitly wanted to "preserve the colonial status of Hong Kong".Liao Chengzhi, a senior Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, said in 1960 that China "shall not hesitate to take positive action to have Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories liberated" should the status quo (i.e. colonial administration) be changed. The warning killed any democratic development for the next three decades.
In the absence of democratic legitimacy, the colonial government slowly implemented a system of formal advisory bodies, integrating interest groups into the policy-making process during the 1970s, which enabled grievances and controversies to be discussed and resolved.
Although full universal suffrage was never granted by the British to its colony before the handover in 1997, some democratic reform began in 1984. Following the historic meeting in 1979 between Deng Xiaoping and then governor Murray MacLehose, a Green Paper: the Further Development of Representative Government in Hong Kong was issued by the colonial government in July 1984. It included proposals aimed at developing a system of more localised government, which included the introduction of indirect elections to the LegCo (Legislative Council) the following year. The Sino-British Joint Declaration stated that "the legislature of the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] shall be constituted by elections"; then British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe further promised the democratic process would start "in the years immediately ahead", but they stalled due to opposition from Beijing, local business interests as represented by Executive Council, and the British Foreign Office under the pretext that it would bring chaos to Hong Kong. Declaring that "full weight be given to representation of the economic and professional sectors essential to future confidence and prosperity of Hong Kong", the government proposed 12 legislators, who were - being members of the Legislative Council - elected by nine trade-based seats, or "functional bodies" - commercial, industrial, financial, labour, social services, education, legal, medical and engineering - the following year. Martin Lee and Szeto Wah, later to become leading democrats, were among those elected in 1985.
Democracy activists - pressure groups, religious groups and community organisations - attended a mass rally at Ko Shan Theatre in Hung Hom in November 1986. The rally was a milestone in Hong Kong's fledgling pro-democracy movement. One of the participating groups, calling themselves the 'group of 190', demanded direct elections for LegCo in 1988, and a faster pace of democratic development after the Handover.
In 1987, many surveys indicated that there was more than 60% popular support for direct elections. The government, under governor David Wilson, issued another green paper in 1987 proposing direct LegCo elections for 1988. However, the proposal was ruled out after a government consultation concluded that people were 'sharply divided' over its introduction that year. As Xinhua stepped up its presence in Hong Kong by opening district offices, pro-Beijing forces worked actively to stifle the implementation of direct elections for the legislature in 1988 by initially identifying supporters, fielding candidates and targeting opponents aiming to win at the district board elections. The Hong Kong government was criticised for manipulating the views of Beijing-friendly groups to ensure that no clear mandate for direct elections in 1988 emerged. Following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and faced with concern over the Beijing government, support for establishment parties fell and pro-democracy parties' fortunes rose. Hong Kong government decided to introduce 18 directly elected seats to the legislature in 1991.
After the departure of Governor David Wilson in 1992, Chris Patten the new governor of Hong Kong, began moves to unilaterally democratise the territory by allowing for the election of half the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, and in the process incurring the wrath of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Patten had judged that: "People in Hong Kong are perfectly capable of taking a greater share in managing their own affairs in a way that is responsible, mature, restrained, sensible". During the final days of British rule, the British wanted to play the political game; the Patten administration legislated for labour rights and collective bargaining. However, the legislation was cancelled by the provisional legislature upon taking office in 1997. Patten's push for reform was strongly opposed at the time by vested interests within LegCo and by former ambassador to China Percy Cradock. Patten's moves created a hostile climate that lasted until Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997. Nevertheless, Patten extracted undertakings from a PRC representative:
How Hong Kong develops democracy (Remember that the people did not have democracy under colonization of the British) in the future is a matter entirely within the sphere of Hong Kong's autonomy, and the central government cannot intervene.
-- Lu Ping, (as quoted in the People's Daily, 18 March 1993)
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the following year that the democratic election of all Legislative Council members by universal suffrage was "a question to be decided by the Hong Kong SAR itself and it needs no guarantee by the Chinese Government".
Under what Beijing called the 'one country, two systems' model, the move towards greater democracy has stalled. The Legislative Council set up by Patten to be partially elected by universal suffrage was dismantled by the PRC and replaced by an entirely unelected provisional legislature.Elections in May 1998 to fill a new legislature saw only 20 seats directly elected, with the remainder determined by a layered selection procedure designed to ensure maximum representation by pro-establishment parties at the expense of pan-democrats. An article in Journal of Democracy argued that "Hong Kong's political development has lagged in the face of well-documented PRC efforts to impede progress toward direct elections, universal suffrage, and other democratizing reforms that Beijing fears might loosen its control."
During the 1996 election a 400-member Selection Committee () voted for a Chief Executive to govern Hong Kong after 1997. Pro-democracy activists, including Emily Lau, Andrew Cheng and Lee Cheuk-yan, insisted this threatened Hong Kong's welfare by denying the city full democracy. A "Tomb of democracy" was established outside the building, with activists shouting "oppose the phony election". The activists were dragged away by the police and detained for four hours. Since 1997, as a result of the executive-led model preferred by Beijing and the lack of democratic accountability of the Chief Executive, and the marginalisation of the pro-democracy camp in the legislature by functional constituencies and split voting between constituency groups, giving pro-Beijing groups an effective veto over all motions, the pan-democrats have relied more on supervisory and control issues, backed by public opinion.
Following a massive protest against a proposal to implement Article 23, which took place on 1 July 2003 and attracted half a million marchers, Beijing appointed Zeng Qinghong to oversee policy issues for Hong Kong. In April 2004, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) spokesman Lau Kwong-wah set aside without explanation the party's 2012 declared goal for universal suffrage, one day after fellow DAB member Chan Kam-lam reiterated on the campaign trail the party's plan to amend the party platform for the third time to promise full democracy in 2012. On 26 April, Beijing reneged on earlier promises to allow Hong Kong the right to determine the timetable to universal suffrage. when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) ruled out universal suffrage before 2012.
Pan-democrat groups such as the Article 45 Concern Group and the Hong Kong Government agree on the interpretation that Hong Kong Basic Law Article 45 indicates universal suffrage as the ultimate aim. However, they differ on the pace for implementing universal suffrage. The Pan-democrats, especially, have voiced concerns that small-circle elections and the undemocratic functional constituencies threaten Hong Kong's autonomy granted to them by the Basic Law. As the new Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa ruled out free, direct elections for another 10 to 15 years. He put forth 2012 as a possible date of universal suffrage.
Following the April NPC ruling against the introduction of universal suffrage before 2012, the pan-democratic camp mooted the idea of a referendum to gauge the level of popular support for universal suffrage in 2007-8.
At the first meeting of the new Legislative Council Constitutional Affairs Panel on 18 October, chairman Lui Ming-wah was ambushed by pan-democrats in a surprise vote on constitutional reforms. After debating for over three hours, when democrats outnumbered pro-government lawmakers, Fernando Cheung raised a motion proposing a public referendum on whether people supported the government's 'go-slow proposals' or whether both elections should be by universal suffrage. The panel chairman stalled on the vote for more than 15 minutes, allowing the pro-government legislators to be called back to vote. However, the meeting descended into chaos and no vote was taken; the meeting was adjourned to the following month. Democrats called on Lui to resign from his post for his abuse of procedure.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa rejected holding a referendum, saying the government would not support any civil organisations who decided to hold an informal referendum. Li Gang of the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong warned that advocating a referendum was in breach of the Basic Law, and that it would be "playing with fire." Basic Law drafter Xiao Weiyun said a referendum could be seen as a mark of disrespect for the National People's Congress. Whilst admitting a clear majority of Hong Kong people wanted universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, Liberal Party chairman James Tien did not back the referendum motion. Constitutional Affairs minister Stephen Lam said: "Apart from the procedures stated in the Basic Law, it would be inappropriate and unnecessary for us to add a further procedure to determine this question." Executive Councillor Bernard Chan said a ballot would cause worry and embarrassment to Beijing because of its associations with a Taiwanese referendum earlier in the year.Margaret Ng of the Civic Party criticised Tien for his inconsistency and said, "The referendum proposed violates no article in the Basic Law. What it does is to allow each and every person in Hong Kong to speak for himself, directly and unequivocally, without the results being distorted by loaded questions or through an arbitrary interpretation."
On 14 November, three pro-democracy functional constituency legislators, Kwok Ka-ki (medical), Joseph Lee (health services) and Mandy Tam (accountancy), declared they would abstain in the vote, denying suggestions they were under pressure to change their vote.
At the second meeting of the new Legislative Council Constitutional Affairs Panel on 15 November, chairman Lui Ming-wah once again deferred voting on the motion brought over from the previous month. Tung Chee Hwa again said that a referendum was "inconsistent with the established legal procedures, is impractical and is misleading to the public." Cheung retorted that although the government claimed to want to hear the views of the public and respect its opinions, it is refusing a referendum out of fear.
On 29 November, the motion tabled by Fernando Cheung before the full Legislative Council, calling for a referendum on the introduction of universal suffrage in 2007-08, was scuppered by the pro-Beijing camp - DAB, the Liberal Party and the Alliance - by 31 votes to 20. Three pan-democrats abstained. Martin Lee was concerned that Beijing may not have been aware of the strength of public opinion in Hong Kong on the matter of universal suffrage. Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam said that the government clearly indicated in its second report on constitutional development in February that more than half of the local population had expectations of full democracy by 2007-08. He said the central government had already considered these wishes before delivering its April decision.
The government issued its blueprint for the so-called 'district council model' for electing the chief executive and the legislature in 2007 and 2008. It suggests increasing the number of LegCo seats from 60 to 70. Of the 10 new seats, five would go to geographical constituencies. The remaining five would be elected by 529 district council members, including 102 government appointees.
Chief Secretary Donald Tsang's fourth report on political reform on 15 December launched a three-month consultation over the methods for electing the chief executive and the legislature in 2007-08. It looked into the size and composition of the Election Committee and LegCo. Tsang indicated he would not consider any proposals which were in conflict with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress's veto of universal suffrage in April.
At the last minute, the government revised its offer aimed at securing votes for the blueprint's passage. The government promised to phase out one-third of the appointed seats, or 34, in 2008. The remaining two-thirds would be abolished no later than 2016.
In March 2007, the pan-democrats published their own blueprint, the 'mainstream transitional proposal' drawn up with the support of 21 legislators in accordance with the principles of equal and universal suffrage and as a reflection of public opinion. They proposed that 400 elected district councillors join the existing 800-member Election Committee, making up a total of 1,200 members. The nominations threshold would be set at 50 EC members, and the candidate for CE would be elected in a one-person, one-vote election. Ultimately, the nomination committee would be scrapped. For the legislature, they proposed returning half of LegCo's seats by direct election in single-seat constituencies, with the other half determined by proportional representation.
After the failure to achieve universal suffrage in 2007, the target of the pan-democrats shifted to 2012; the pro-Beijing camp stated its preference for 2017. The Pan-democrats were concerned over the lack of details regarding governance in Hong Kong after July 2047, when the One country, two systems 50-year guarantee of autonomy granted by the Basic Law expires.
On 29 December 2007, the NPCSC resolved:
that the election of the fifth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2017 may be implemented by universal suffrage; that after the Chief Executive is selected by universal suffrage, the election of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may be implemented by the method of...universal suffrage... Appropriate amendments conforming to the principle of gradual and orderly progress may be made to the specific method for selecting the fourth Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2012 and the specific method for forming the fifth term Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the year 2012 in accordance with the provisions of Articles 45 and 68, and those of Article 7 of Annex I and Article III of Annex II to the Basic Law
The decision stipulated that:
The bills on the amendments to the method for selecting the Chief Executive and the proposed amendments to such bills shall be introduced by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the Legislative Council; such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive
The Asia Times remarked that both proposals for LegCo and for the Chief Executive "hedged in with so many ifs and buts that there is no guarantee of Hong Kong getting anything at all... "
On 18 November 2009, the government published the Consultation Document on the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the LegCo in 2012 which proposed to enlarge the Election Committee for the chief executive election from 800 members to 1,200 in 2012 and increasing the number of Legislative Council members from 60 to 70. It would also give elected District Council members more seats on the Election Committee and five of the new LegCo seats.
In January 2010, five pan-democrat legislators resigned from their post as part of the 'Five Constituencies Resignation' as had been mooted since the previous July. Albert Chan, Alan Leong, Tanya Chan, "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man tendered their resignations on 26 January 2010, with effect from 29 January 2010. The HK government and Beijing representatives labelled them 'radicals' and said the "so-called referendum" had no legal grounding.
Key proposals remained unchanged when Chief Secretary Henry Tang unveiled the package to be put before LegCo. He said the government tried to find the "maximum latitude to enhance the democratic elements of the two elections in 2012." He urged legislators to accept this 'golden opportunity' because there was no room for further concessions.Qiao Xiaoyang, head of the NPC's Hong Kong Basic Law Committee, said that the passage of the reform package would "create excellent conditions for universal suffrage in the future." Constitutional Affairs minister Stephen Lam insisted the 2012 electoral reform proposal is "more democratic than the 2005 package" rejected by LegCo, and more likely to advance the city's political system if approved. He said that the timetable of universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020 was not ideal, but was "a practical one that is accepted by over 60% of residents."
The 18 remaining pro-democracy legislators intimated their preparedness to vote down the package if no further progress was made on democracy.Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu said any reform package that increased the number of functional constituency seats was "regressive and unacceptable"; the Democratic Party counter-proposed that the five additional LegCo seats for the district council functional constituency be directly elected by proportional representation instead of block voting. 'Moderate' pan-democrats formed an umbrella group, the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, counting 15 legislators as its members, asked for guarantees of the abolition of functional constituencies before they would accept an increase in the government's proposed district council functional constituencies. Chief Secretary Henry Tang said the government would consider scrapping appointed district councillors if sufficient opposition lawmakers promise to support the 2012 political reform package.
In May, pro-democracy groups were reported to have been in contact with mainland officials for several months to discuss ideas for reform; they quoted officials as saying that a statement on electoral reform beyond 2012 will be made, conditional upon LegCo's approval of the current package. There were highly publicised historical meetings between Beijing representatives and Democratic Party and the Alliance. Four days before 23 June LegCo vote on the reform package, the official stance against the Democratic Party's compromise proposal softened considerably. Following a letter that Donald Tsang had written a letter the previous week to Xi Jinping, the South China Morning Post reported that paramount leader Hu Jintao had personally approved the revision, fearing further strengthening of the 'radical' pan-democrats in the event of a stalemate. With the Democratic Party support, the revised packages passed through LegCo after securing 46 votes on 24 and 25 June. The Civic Party, the League of Social Democrats, and one resigned Democrat opposed the resolutions.
On 31 August 2014, the tenth session of the Standing Committee in the twelfth National People's Congress set limits for the 2016 Legislative Council election and 2017 Chief Executive election. While notionally allowing for universal suffrage, the decision imposes the standard that "the Chief Executive shall be a person who loves the country and loves Hong Kong," and stipulates "the method for selecting the Chief Executive by universal suffrage must provide corresponding institutional safeguards for this purpose". The decision states that for the 2017 Chief Executive election, a nominating committee, mirroring the present 1,200-member Election Committee be formed to nominate two to three candidates, each of whom must receive the support of more than half of the members of the nominating committee. After the popular election of one of the nominated candidates, the Chief Executive-elect "will have to be appointed by the Central People's Government." The process of forming the 2016 Legislative Council would be unchanged, but following the new process for the election of the Chief Executive, a new system to elect the Legislative Council via universal suffrage would be developed with the approval of Beijing.
The Standing Committee decision is set to be the basis for electoral reform crafted by the Legislative Council. Hundreds of suffragists gathered on the night of the Beijing announcement near the government offices to protest the decision. In an opinion poll carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, only 36.1% of 802 people surveyed between 8-15 October accepted the NPCSC's decision but 55.6% were willing to accept it if the HKSAR Government democratised the nominating committee during the second phase of the public consultation period.
Due to the rejection of 2014-15 Hong Kong electoral reform, Mainland Government officials, along with then Chief Executive CY Leung and current Chief Executive Carrie Lam have said that the development of democracy in Hong Kong is not a top priority and that the Hong Kong government should focus on livelihood issues first.
Candidates for election to the Legislative Council in 2016 were pre-screened by the Electoral Affairs Commission for their political beliefs and many were excluded on the basis that their views were "unconstitutional". Those excluded included Yeung Ke-cheong, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party of Hong Kong.