Where Does Hong Kong Go From Here?

Five views on the future of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

Pro-democracy campaigners hold yellow umbrellas as they march against the government's controversial electoral roadmap, outside the city's legislature in Hong Kong on June 17, 2015. Hong Kong prepared for a political showdown on June 17 with lawmakers set to vote on a divisive reform package and tensions high over an alleged explosives plot that police said was linked to a "radical" group. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-democracy campaigners hold yellow umbrellas as they march against the government's controversial electoral roadmap, outside the city's legislature in Hong Kong on June 17, 2015. Hong Kong prepared for a political showdown on June 17 with lawmakers set to vote on a divisive reform package and tensions high over an alleged explosives plot that police said was linked to a "radical" group. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-democracy campaigners hold yellow umbrellas as they march against the government's controversial electoral roadmap, outside the city's legislature in Hong Kong on June 17, 2015. Hong Kong prepared for a political showdown on June 17 with lawmakers set to vote on a divisive reform package and tensions high over an alleged explosives plot that police said was linked to a "radical" group. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG -- On June 18, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the city’s lawmaking body, rejected a proposed elections system that would have allowed citizens to cast ballots for their chief executive, the city’s top official, for the first time -- albeit under heavy restrictions imposed by Beijing. Anger over the proposed plan galvanized democracy activists and stoked massive protests in fall 2014.

So what’s next? Many are debating if Hong Kong needs to amend its constitution, called the Basic Law, which grants citizens many freedoms unheard of on the mainland. At the same time, a surge of anti-mainland sentiment has attracted many youth who want Hong Kong to break away from Beijing's control. Some say the city needs to craft a more democratic elections system, ending the current rules that allow just 1,200 votes from business and trade groups, most of which are loyal to mainland concerns.

While it is unlikely that the city will soon erupt in mass protests like those that paralyzed city streets last fall, the debate over free elections, and the path to getting there, will continue to divide residents. Foreign Policy asked several people, before and after the vote, what would be the best path forward for the democracy movement. The interviews have been edited for clarity.

HONG KONG — On June 18, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, the city’s lawmaking body, rejected a proposed elections system that would have allowed citizens to cast ballots for their chief executive, the city’s top official, for the first time — albeit under heavy restrictions imposed by Beijing. Anger over the proposed plan galvanized democracy activists and stoked massive protests in fall 2014.

So what’s next? Many are debating if Hong Kong needs to amend its constitution, called the Basic Law, which grants citizens many freedoms unheard of on the mainland. At the same time, a surge of anti-mainland sentiment has attracted many youth who want Hong Kong to break away from Beijing’s control. Some say the city needs to craft a more democratic elections system, ending the current rules that allow just 1,200 votes from business and trade groups, most of which are loyal to mainland concerns.

While it is unlikely that the city will soon erupt in mass protests like those that paralyzed city streets last fall, the debate over free elections, and the path to getting there, will continue to divide residents. Foreign Policy asked several people, before and after the vote, what would be the best path forward for the democracy movement. The interviews have been edited for clarity.

Billy Fung, president of the University of Hong Kong’s student union:

We have to have the constitutional right as Hong Kong people to be a separate country.

If there were a constitutionally binding vote on whether Hong Kong should be a separate country, I would vote for Hong Kong as a separate country. To decide Hong Kong’s future is our right.

Agnes Chow, a member of Scholarism, a student protest group that led the fall protests:

I think Scholarism will start something (activism and protests) about the Basic Law. If the government continues to neglect the opinions of the people, it’s very natural that people will have discontent.

Sam Yip Kam-lung, leader of a new democracy group, Citizens Against Pseudo Universal Suffrage:

I don’t think anybody has enough power and confidence to really lead the movement. The students still are not mature enough to lead.

I don’t think any single group [can bridge the divide]. We are trying to cooperate with new democracy leaders and parties. I hope this kind of cooperation can be a sign of a new democracy movement.

Tiffany Yuen, City University of Hong Kong student:

We would like to see what can be done to amend the Basic Law and even rewrite it. How can we amend the five steps (of amending the elections system) to bring about universal suffrage?

Jeff Chan, IT worker and protester:

I think we should put more pressure on C.Y. Leung, the city’s chief executive, to resign. That’s originally what people wanted. The only reason he stayed in power was because Beijing is backing him for this reform package.

Localists [activists who oppose mainland China’s incursions into Hong Kong] don’t have a cohesive agenda. But they have the anger.

I appreciate that they can create small-scale opposition. I identify with their anger and opposition, but they don’t have a political agenda, so there’s nothing to support.

Photo credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Suzanne Sataline is a writer based in Hong Kong. Twitter: @ssataline

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