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Politics

Hong Kong's democratic camp looks fractured ahead of LegCo vote

HONG KONG   The next election for Hong Kong's Legislative Council is scheduled for September 2016. The first poll for the LegCo since the Umbrella Movement protests -- a 79-day sit-in staged two years earlier by pro-democracy students and citizens -- could be a watershed in Hong Kong's fitful moves toward democratization.

      "Hong Kong people are polarized into pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps. Many people want change in politics," said Tik Chi-yuen, 58, former vice president of the Democratic Party. Tik quit the party in September and is working to set up a moderate party that he says will pursue a "third way." "Pan-democrats have always been opposing the Hong Kong government and mainland China. Looking for better democracy, we should negotiate with the central government," said Tik. He plans to put up three or four candidates from the new party for the LegCo election.

     At present, 35 members of the 70-member unicameral LegCo are directly elected by residents in district-level constituencies, with the other half chosen by various professional interest groups. There are 43 members who are regarded as pro-Beijing, while 27 are from the pro-democracy camp. Critical bills require the support of two-thirds of members for passage.

     Because the pro-democrats control more than a third of the LegCo, they have a de facto veto. They displayed their power last June, when a government-sponsored bill on changes to the electoral system, drawn up at Beijing's behest, was voted down. 

     The bill, meant to take effect before the 2017 election for the chief executive, the head of the territory's government, would have granted universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens for the first time in history. But it required all candidates for the top post to be approved by a largely pro-Beijing nominating committee. That would have effectively blocked pro-democracy hopefuls from running, so opponents of the bill united to kill it.

     The focus of attention in the 2016 LegCo election is whether the pro-democracy camp can retain one-third of the seats. If pro-Beijing lawmakers win more than a two-thirds majority, the central government will have virtually a free hand to ram through whatever changes it wants in Hong Kong.

     The democratic camp in Hong Kong is diverse and in danger of fragmenting. The Umbrella Movement's street action failed to win any concessions from Beijing. Moderate activists such as Tik are calling for dialogue with the Chinese leadership. Meanwhile, a radical party, the Neo Democrats, emphasizes Hong Kong's autonomy and is gaining strength.

     Some in the Umbrella Movement, often dubbed "umbrella soldiers," are skeptical of those who supposedly represent them. "Hong Kong people are sick of the parties," said Andy Chui Chi-kin, 48, who took people by surprise in November when he won a district council election, beating a veteran Beijing-friendly politician.

     Chui, until then a rather ordinary company employee and father, was part of the sit-in from start to finish. He ran as an independent in the district council election because he believed it necessary for people in his locality to better understand democracy. "Universal suffrage is a common goal, but we have different ways," he said, taking issue with the course pursued by other pro-democracy lawmakers.

     Some of the new political parties created by the umbrella soldiers, such as Youngspiration, plan to field their own candidates for the LegCo election. Candidates from new and established pro-democracy groups may end up splitting the vote and giving victory to the other side.

     In the district council elections the rise of younger legislators was noticeable, while a number of veteran council members lost, reflecting a growing desire for generational change among voters. Harnessing the shifting tides of public opinion in Hong Kong will be a challenge for both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps in upcoming votes.

Nikkei staff writer Zheng Zhi contributed to this report.

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