Beijing has officially adopted a tightly-controlled framework for Hong Kong’s first chief executive election by universal suffrage, which is deemed by the city's pan-democrats as closing doors to aspirants with different political views.
The decision, which was approved unanimously on Sunday afternoon by the nation’s top legislative body, the Standing Committee of National People’s Congress, allows only two to three candidates to run in the race for Hong Kong's top job. And they have to obtain the support of at least half of the nominating committee members to get on the ballot.
“The road of dialogue has come to the end,” said the Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said as he met the press with members of other pan-democratic groups such as the Alliance for True Democracy and the Federation of Students.
Occupy Central would next mobilise a long-term campaign fighting for democracy would be mobilised together with the other groups, Tai said.
Labour Party’s lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan added that they would launch a “full-scale fight” against Beijing’s decision.
Beijing has also decided that the formation and electoral method of the nominating committee "shall be made in accordance with” those of the existing 1,200-strong election committee – which consists of four major sectors. It was elected by around 240,000 voters in 38 sub-sectors.
This is seen as a departure from the NPC's decision in 2007 that the formation of the 2017 nominating committee “could be modelled on” that of the election committee.
It also implies that only minor changes would be possible. Maria Tam Wai-chu, a local deputy who attended the Standing Committee, said it is the Hong Kong government’s responsibility to put forward options for further discussion.
In Beijing, Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei stressed that the chief executive must be one who “loves the country and loves Hong Kong” and upholds the Basic Law, for the sake of national security and the city’s long term interest.
“If the chief executive does not love the country and confronts Beijing, ‘one country, two systems’ would fail,” Li said.
In his tough remarks after the Standing Committee delivered its decision, Li said some people in Hong Kong attempted to “confuse and mislead” the society by advocating public nomination, and sought to replace Basic Law provisions by suggesting the so-called "international standards" on universal suffrage.
“A lot of time has been wasted before in the debate of impractical suggestions such as public nomination,” Li said, insisting that the electoral method should be made in accordance with the actual situation and legal framework of each society.
He also warned that Hong Kong could be dragged into protracted political debate if the Legco vetoes the reform proposal this time.
"It would be harmful to the business environment and the city’s development," he said.
The Hong Kong government’s proposed second round of public consultation on how to achieve universal suffrage, slated for later this year, must conform to Beijing’s decision. Then it needs the support of at least two-thirds of the 70-seat Legislative Council to approve the reform.
The resolution stated that the electoral method would remain unchanged if the Legco failed to pass the reform package.
Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying hailed the NPC decision as "a historic milestone for the country" and the city, and said his government would launch the second round of public consultation as soon as possible.
Official and non-official members of the Executive Council also voiced support for Beijing's decision today, Leung added.
If the Legislative Council fail to approve the resolution next year, the city would be stuck at the status quo, with a 1,200-strong election committee picking the chief executive.
"Our five million [eligible voters] will be deprived of their voting rights that they will otherwise be entitled."
Leung said all of Hong Kong was "obliged to accomplish the task [of implementing universal suffrage] dutifully", but added the overall direction was not final.
"No one can say once we accept this direction ... That we can't make amendments further on," he said.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-Yi said it was possible that the 1,200 member nominating committee could include other constituencies in the future.
Beijing has also decided that the electoral method for the 2016 Legco election would be unchanged. All members of the legislature could be elected by popular votes after universal suffrage has been implemented for the chief executive election.
Pro-democracy camp lawmakers have vowed to veto a proposal that fails to give voters a genuine choice on candidates, and the Occupy Central campaigners said they would start mobilising the campaign when Beijing caps the number of candidates or install a 50 per cent nomination threshold on potential candidates.
Occupy campaigners have announced they would gather supporters outside the Chief Executive’s office in Tamar between 7pm and 9pm on Sunday, when they are expected to announce the next move of the campaign.
It is not clear whether the rally could lead directly to the “last resort” of the Occupy campaign – which would call for a large-scale sit-in to block roads in the city's business hub.
More than 7,000 police officers, who have been specially trained to deal with the civil disobedience campaign, have been deployed for Sunday evening's assembly, although the organisers have stressed they would not stage the sit-in on Sunday night.
"The Occupy Central campaign has made mainland officials and Standing Committee members who are concerned about Hong Kong believe that they could not back down, because once you begin to back down, they would ask for even more later," said Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the NPC standing committee.
"Without this decision, the argument over this would go on and on. I believe the Occupy campaign would take place, but we don’t know how many will take part in it, though I really hope they would not do it," Fan said.
Fan sought to defend Beijing's concerns that Occupy Central could harm national security.
"The protection of national security isn’t only about defence or warfare. Disrupting China’s financial system is a threat to national security...the Occupy campaign says from the outset that it would disrupt Hong Kong’s financial hub, and since we are a renminbi clearing and trade hub, you would understand why the chief executive of the HKSAR needs to 'love the country, love Hong Kong,'" she said, adding that it was a view adopted by most Standing Committee members.