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Hong Kong lawmakers say China-backed election plan will fail

[HONG KONG] Two of Hong Kong's top lawmakers said a China-backed plan for the city's first direct election for chief executive would fail to pass amid growing public opposition to the bill.

"As we are sitting here talking, I have no doubt about a veto taking place," Alan Leong, leader of the Civic Party, which opposes the legislation, said in an interview Monday on Bloomberg Television. The bill will be presented to the legislature Wednesday with a vote expected this week.

Mr Leong's remarks were echoed by Regina Ip, a member of the city's cabinet and the chairwoman of the New People's Party, which backs the legislation. "The government's motion is unlikely to be approved," she said in a separate interview.

They spoke a day after about 3,500 pro-democracy protesters joined a march to demand that lawmakers reject the bill in a vote. That was a fraction of the 50,000 predicted last week by organizers. James Rice, an assistant professor of philosophy and law at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, said the low turnout reflected a change of strategy by the city's pro-democracy movement.

People "have stopped going to these kinds of marches because they have realised they are useless kinds of exercises," said Prof Rice.

"It doesn't mean they don't support the movement. It is more about tactics." STREET PROTESTS

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying needs support from at least four of the city's 27 pro-democracy legislators to secure passage of the plan, which mandates that candidates for the 2017 chief executive election be selected by a committee of the city's elites, rather than voters. The announcement of China's vote plan triggered almost three months of street protests last year that hurt tourism and retail in the Asian financial capital.

Pro-democracy activists, who want to overturn the screening of nominees for chief executive, have mocked the plan as "fake democracy," saying the 1,200-member nominating committee is stacked with Beijing loyalists. Vetting of candidates is required under Hong Kong's Basic Law, Mr Leung and the Chinese government have said.

"We need to show the Chinese government that Hong Kong people's desire for genuine universal suffrage cannot be suppressed," Nathan Law, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, told reporters at Victoria Park as the march was starting Sunday.

"Hong Kong people want the true right to choose our chief executive." 'UMBRELLA MOVEMENT'

Scholarism - a student group that took part in the march and last year's demonstrations - has vowed to escalate protest actions should the bill pass.

Public anger over China's outline for the proposal last year led to 79 days of protests, dubbed the Umbrella Movement, and triggered violent clashes with the police.

Hong Kong police arrested nine people in raids after finding explosives, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday. The nine people were believed to have links to a local radical group and police suspect they intended to detonate the explosives before lawmakers debate the election reform bill, the newspaper said. The paper didn't say whether they supported or opposed the election plan.

The government is spending HK$5 million (S$870,000) on public meetings, television ads, and posters blanketing trains and buses to win support for the plan.


Opposition to the plan has been rising according to a daily tracking poll that began in late April. Those opposing the measure rose to 43.4 per cent on June 8 from a low of 34.5 per cent on May 31, the same day top Beijing officials told a group of pro-democracy lawmakers there was no chance of modifying the proposed framework, which, if passed, would apply to all future elections in Hong Kong.

The share of those who support the proposal has declined to 41.6 per cent, according to that tracking poll conducted by three local universities.

If the China-backed plan fails, the city's top leader would continue to be selected by a committee of 1,200 business, political and social elite, which has hewed to Beijing's interests.