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Democracy activists protest in Hong Kong


Hong Kong citizens have occupied the streets in the Mong Kok district, protesting soon after Beijing rejected open nominations for the election of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive in 2017.

In 1997, after Hong Kong was handed over to China, China promised its citizens voting rights in political elections. Hong Kong also adopted The Basic Law, which guaranteed future elections and allowed it to operate with its own political and legal institutions. This mini-constitution states that Hong Kong’s aim is to vote for the chief executive “by universal suffrage.”

Even though the National People’s Congress (NPC, the Chinese legislature) promised Hong Kong direct elections by 2017, China’s top legislative committee said in August that voters can only choose from two or three applicants that are selected by a nominating committee that is largely pro-Beijing, limiting the options from which citizens can vote. The candidate would also have to have over 50 percent of the committee’s support before he or she would be able to run in the election.

This nominating committee has angered democracy activists. They believe that China will rule out the candidates they do not agree with. The activists also think it is interfering with the democratic process.

Three major democracy groups have emerged. Two of the three groups are made up of students – Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students. The other group is known as Occupy Central.

The student groups began by boycotting classes. Alex Chow, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, and Joshua Wong of Scholarism are some notable students who were involved in the week-long boycott.

Chow said, “Only through cooperation and coordination we believe can democracy be planted in Hong Kong and therefore generate sufficient pressure to the government.”

The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism have joined forces to put together major demonstrations and occupy various places. Under a bridge decorated with democracy posters, Chow chanted shouts of “jia you!” with other students. This is roughly translated as “Step on the gas!”

The two groups also occupied the central business district of Admiralty, along with the democracy activists Occupy Central, led by academic Benny Tai. They wanted to cause as much economic and political disruption in the city as possible. Citizens have also set up occupy camps all over the city.

In the cities, including Admiralty, on September 28, police used pepper spray, tear gas and batons against the peaceful protesters. This movement was named the “Umbrella Revolution” because the protestors used umbrellas against the police to protect themselves.

Eli Friedman, assistant professor at Cornell University and China analyst, said, “One of the reasons that this movement has been so successful is that they really stitched together a broad, cross-cultural alliance. And I think in part that speaks to the high level of inequality in Hong Kong.”

The movement is very diverse. It includes everyone from white collar and middle class workers, as well as several unions. It is not only the people that matter, but the reason they joined the protests as well. They joined for social justice because the Chinese economy is one of the most unequal ones in the world.

Friedman also said, “Really almost everybody, except the super wealthy, have been excluded from having any kind of political voice.”

Do you think that the Chinese government will submit to the democratic protests and come up with a compromise?

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