Voting rights are at the heart of tensions with China.
As protesters stormed Hong Kong’s legislature on July 1, a masked young man held up a megaphone at the front of the chamber and declared: “I want genuine universal suffrage!”
The demand was part of a list read aloud in the ransacked council room and is at the heart of the protests that have roiled the government this year. The clashes began as an attempt to bar Chief Executive Carrie Lam from changing the local extradition law to allow those facing criminal charges to be sent to mainland China, but they’ve since grown into a general indictment of Beijing’s rule over the former British colony.
Disagreements over democracy in Hong Kong have been a source of instability since China and the U.K. wrote universal suffrage into the Basic Law that’s governed the city since Britain handed rule back to China in 1997. The document describes direct elections for the chief executive as the “ultimate aim” but grants power for selecting the leader to a 1,200-member committee, which has long been dominated by Beijing loyalists. The lack of direct elections is “the root of all evils,” according to the protesters’ declaration, preventing any leader from claiming popular support for her policies.
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