Hong Kong protesters plan spot referendum over government talks

The Guardian, Friday 24 October 2014

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong plan to hold a spot referendum on Sunday on whether to stay in the streets or accept government offers for more talks and clear their protest camps.

The three main groups behind the demonstrations said on Thursday they would register public opinion at the main downtown protest site, where thousands remain camped out.

Hong Kong downtown protest camps
The campsite of pro-democracy protesters in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong. Photograph: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong’s government has offered to submit a report to the central government noting the demonstrators’ unhappiness with a Beijing-dictated plan to have a 1,200-person committee pick candidates for the city’s top leader in 2017 elections.

Protesters say the committee is weighted toward the central government’s preferences and should be scrapped or at least reformed to better represent the Asian financial capital of 7.2 million people.

Hong Kong officials have also offered to hold regular dialogue with protesters about democratic reforms if they end their nearly month-long demonstrations, which have occupied streets in three of the city’s busiest areas.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the main organisers behind the protests, has already rejected the government offer but still called for the Sunday referendum.

A spokeswoman for Occupy Central with Peace and Love, another protest group behind the referendum, said the ballot’s language and further details would be released later.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the protests began, Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first chief executive after its 1997 transition from British to Chinese rule, said on Friday that the protesters’ demands were not realistic and that they should accept a longer timeline for electoral reforms.

“Students, I hope you listen to what this old man is saying,” the 77-year-old said in a news conference. “It’s time to go home.”

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on China to ensure universal suffrage in Hong Kong, stressing that included the right to stand for election as well as the right to vote.

The panel of 18 independent experts, who monitor compliance with an international treaty on civil and political rights ratified by Hong Kong, agreed the move after voicing concern at Beijing’s plan to vet candidates.

The committee agreed on “the need to ensure universal suffrage, which means both the right to be elected as well as the right to vote. The main concerns of committee members were focused on the right to stand for elections without unreasonable restrictions,” Konstantine Vardzelashvili, who chaired the session, said at its conclusion.