Protests erupted in Hong Kong on Sunday after a ruling by the Chinese government effectively destroyed the region's chance to hold a democratic election for its next leader.
The election, set for 2017, will be the first in which the Hong Kong chief executive is elected by voters. However, the ruling ensured that the process will be controlled by China's legislature and prevent a truly democratic election. Officials would allow only two or three candidates to enter and require them to gain endorsements from at least half of the members of a mostly pro-establishment nominating committee.
Pro-democracy activists disrupted Beijing official Li Fei's press conference on Monday, accusing the government of "breaking its promise" to let residents freely elect their representatives, the Guardian reports. Some protesters stood on chairs and held up placards that read "Shameful" and "Loss of faith." Security officers promptly removed the activists from the site. Police also used pepper spray against members of a radical activist group who were attempting to storm the venue.
Li told reporters that allowing a democratic election would create a "chaotic society" and that the region's chief executive needed to "love the country and love the party."
In response to the decision, protesters also launched a civil disobedience campaign in the region's financial center. They warned that other actions would follow, including a widespread student boycott of classes, if their demands for political reform were not met. The campaign, called Occupy Central with Peace and Love, released a statement on Sunday condemning the government's decision, saying it had "dashed people's hopes for change and will intensify conflicts in the society."
"We are very sorry to say that today all chances of dialogue have been exhausted and the occupation of Central will definitely happen," the group said.
The Guardian writes:
Pan-democrats have vowed to block the changes in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) vote that is required to pass them. If the changes fall, the electoral system will continue as present – with a committee of 1,200 people, selected by the region's generally pro-Beijing elites, picking the next chief executive.
The Hong Kong government still has to discuss Beijing's ruling and formulate a bill to be passed by the region's legislature. At least four or five pan-democrats would need to switch their votes in favor of the decision for the ruling to be adopted, but if universal suffrage is not introduced for the 2017 election, it will not be introduced for any future elections of LegCo members.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the Occupy Central co-founders, said, "This is the end of any dialogue. In the next few weeks, Occupy Central will start wave after wave of action."
Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" rule came into effect when the region's sovereignty was handed over from the U.K. to China in 1997. Although Hong Kong residents generally have more freedoms than those in the mainland, civil liberties came under increased pressure after Chinese President Xi Jinping took power, particularly for lawyers, activists, and reporters.
Emily Lau, LegCo member and chairwoman of the Democratic party, told the Guardian, "I am not disappointed, because I never had much expectation. I'm infuriated and very, very unhappy. Beijing has reneged on its promise."
"I guess they do not trust the Hong Kong people," Lau added. "The struggle will go on."