Asia-Pacific News

HK's political reform vote: What you need to know

A protester holds a protest sign whilst marching during a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong
Bloomberg | Getty Images

It's a crucial week in Hong Kong's ongoing fight for universal suffrage as lawmakers get set to vote on a contentious, Beijing-backed electoral reform bill by Friday.

If you haven't been tracking day-to-day developments, here's what you need to know.

What does the bill entail?

The bill grants Hong Kong's citizens the right to vote for their next chief executive in the 2017 for the first time. This is a major departure from how the city's leader has been elected in the past. Since 1997, when Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China, the chief executive has been chosen by a 1,200-member election committee largely composed of Beijing loyalists.

But here's the catch. Candidates will be pre-screened by a pro-Beijing nominating committee - a major point of controversy among many of the city's five million eligible voters. No more than three candidates will be permitted to contest the election.

How does the public feel?

The Hong Kong public is deeply divided over the electoral reform package. In a poll conducted over the weekend, 54 percent of respondents believed lawmakers should veto the package, while 38 percent supported it, Reuters reported.

Opponents dismiss the government's reform proposals as "fake universal suffrage", saying they want genuinely democratic elections.

Beijing supporters believe passage of the bill is necessary for bringing stability back to the city. Hong Kong, a major financial center, was rocked by pro-democracy demonstrations last year, which shut down parts of the cities for over two months.

Will the bill get passed?

The bill is unlikely to win enough votes to pass. It requires two-thirds of the 70-seat Legislative Council, or 47 votes, to pass. However, some 27 pro-democracy legislators have vowed to vote against it, despite lobbying by Beijing.

"What Beijing and the Hong Kong government have offered us is not the real thing," Emily Lau, member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party told CNBC on Wednesday.

Pro-democracy campaigners display placards symbolising a vote against the government's controversial electoral roadmap
AFP | Getty Images

"We have been waiting for decades for universal suffrage and now when it comes to the crunch we have to reject the package, the reason is that it's not genuine universal suffrage. This is an insult to the voters' intelligence," she said.

What happens next?

If the proposal is voted down, the city's chief executive will be continue to elected by the existing election committee.

Pan-democratic lawmakers will resume their efforts to broker a deal with the central government for free and fair elections – with a fresh round of protests on the cards.

"I think the democrats will continue to protest and engage in various forms of activity to educate the community," Michael Davis, Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong. "I would hope the central government and Hong Kong government would learn a lesson from it and reexamine their position," he said.

In the unlikely event that the proposal is passed, this would raise the specter of another episode of political unrest in the city.

"If their attempts to stop the reform proposal have failed, they will be very vociferous in protesting against it," said David Akers-Jones, president at the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong.