Hong Kong’s finance chief said accepting legal consequences doesn’t excuse the city’s pro-democracy protesters breaking the law, as movement leaders discussed their options and demonstrations entered a sixth week.
“No matter whether the protesters and supporters are the majority or the minority of society, they must care about the rights of people who hold different opinions,” Financial Secretary John Tsang wrote on his blog yesterday. He wrote he hopes protesters don’t hold a “destroy first, then rebuild later” attitude to deal with political reform.
Demonstrators took to the streets September 26 following the Chinese government’s August decision that candidates for the city’s top post in 2017 must be vetted by a nominating committee. Movement leaders have suggested Hong Kong’s legislature resign en masse, triggering by-elections and a de facto referendum on electoral reform. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its governing document, doesn’t allow for public referendums.
“I’m aware people have given different suggestions over the past two to three days to end the crisis,” Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official, told reporters yesterday, according to a transcript of her remarks posted on the government’s website. “Their suggestions were impractical. Under our election and political system, we don’t have the so-called referendum. Any activities conducted using the name of referendum are not legally binding.”
Representatives of pro-democracy groups including the Hong Kong Federation of Students, led by Alex Chow, and so-called pan-democrat lawmakers met last night, according to Benny Tai, founder of the Occupy Central movement. He declined to say what was discussed in the meeting when asked by Bloomberg News.
Lam Woon-kwong, convener of Hong Kong’s Executive Council, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s cabinet, called for a second round of talks with student protest leaders yesterday, according to a report on the website of Radio Television Hong Kong. Lester Shum of the Hong Federation of Students told reporters no one from the government had contacted the group, according to a separate RTHK report.
Oscar Lai, a member of the Scholarism student group, led by Joshua Wong, said even if a by-election were to take place, it wouldn’t necessarily end the protests.
“Having a referendum does not mean we are planning to end the movement,” he said at a rally in Admiralty last night, the main protest site and closest to the city’s government offices. “The idea is to merge the referendum together with the movement to gather opinions from the public.
Two options have been being discussed, either of which would trigger a citywide by-election, pro-democracy Legislative Council member Alan Leong, leader of the Civic Party, said in a telephone interview Oct. 31. Pro-democracy parties have 27 seats in the 70-member legislature.
Either pro-democracy lawmakers would resign from Hong Kong’s five electoral districts, or one legislator specially elected from among neighborhood councilors would quit, Leong said. Since Hong Kong doesn’t have a referendum law, a by-election is one way to have a de facto plebiscite, he said.
Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang said he didn’t see the point of such resignations and doesn’t want them to happen, according to a Cable Television report.
Student leaders are also considering trying to send representatives to Beijing to seek direct talks with mainland Chinese officials during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit starting this week, Chow said Oct. 30.
Chow’s group on Oct. 28 called on Chief Secretary Lam to submit a report to China reflecting their demands for free elections, including a reversal of the Aug. 31 decision, as a condition for further talks. Failing such action, they would like to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
In previous talks, the government told students that the 2017 elections were just the start of the democratic process and that further reforms were possible.
‘‘It’s simple,” Chow said Oct. 31. “If you couldn’t endorse anything right now, then show us the timetable.”