Two staff members move a ballot box to the central ballot-counting hall during the chief executive election of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Hong Kong, South China, March 25, 2012. The 2012 chief executive election of Hong Kong SAR was held on March 23. Leung Chun-ying, former convenor of the Non-Official Members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, won the election. (Xinhua/Chen Xiaowei)
Turnout fell in an annual New Year's Day rally in Hong Kong to call for universal suffrage in electing the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region.
Organizers of the rally said they were expecting 50,000 protesters to march from Victoria Park to Central, but police said that at most 11,100 attended, according to AFP.
Johnson Yeung, convener of the organizer the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), told the Global Times that the rally aims to push for universal suffrage without candidates having been "pre-screened" by a nominating committee.
"This will give authorities a clear message that we will go to great lengths for democracy," Yeung said.
The CHRF also conducted a "New Year Civil Referendum Project," Wednesday online and at the park in which 62,000 people were polled on the principles of electing the region's chief executive."
Beijing has promised a referendum in Hong Kong in 2017. The regional government has conducted a five-month public consultation about the electoral system, including how the nominating committee should be formed.
Currently, Hong Kong's leader is elected by a 1,200-strong committee.
Zhu Shihai, a professor from the Beijing-based Central Institute of Socialism, said Yeung's proposal for so-called citizen nomination is against the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which stipulates that a candidate must be nominated by a nomination committee first, voted for by legitimate citizens and appointed by the central government.
Zhu said Wednesday's rally, though not a particularly large-scale event, showed that critics were trying to pressure the central government, as they fear they will be removed from the electoral process, as the central government has emphasized on many occasions that the chief executive of Hong Kong must be a patriot.
During a meeting with Hong Kong legislators in 2013, Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, said that the central government had made it clear that subversive forces must not be allowed to govern Hong Kong.
"It's highly necessary to demand so. If the Hong Kong leader does not stick to the one-China policy, it would jeopardize the stability and security of our nation," said Zhang Dinghuai, deputy director of the Center for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions at Shenzhen University, Guangdong Province.
Since China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, China has implemented the "one country, two systems" policy under the Basic Law.
But critics have accused the chief executives elected since 1997 of being too "pro-Beijing." Discontent over corruption scandals, sky-high housing prices, and especially the impact from the growing presence of tourists, students and business people from the Chinese mainland, have added to complaints.
Police took away at least four protesters from the march for scuffling with officers, members of the same activist group that trespassed into a People's Liberation Army (PLA) barracks at Central on Thursday, the South China Morning Post reported.
The four were members of a group calling for policy priority for Hongkongers.
The PLA told police that the four, carrying a colonial flag, broke into the barracks after ignoring the guard's warnings.