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Hong Kong Nears ‘Fake Democracy’: Elect Any Candidate China Approves

Hundreds of Hong Kongers took to the streets of the semi-independent Chinese city Wednesday and Thursday, protesting a draft law that would allow more direct voting in exchange for a more limited slate of candidates.

The latest protests were a small echo of massive demonstrations and sit-ins that erupted in the fall of 2014 when the law was proposed by China’s central government. At the time, authorities in Hong Kong and in China proper called the protests “illegal,” and forcibly removed protestors from the streets several months after they began.

While part of the People’s Republic of China, the city of seven million is led by a chief executive, who is elected by a 1,200-member Election Committee. The committee members are in turn elected by members of each of the city’s “constituencies,” representing business sectors and other areas of public life.

When Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese control in 1997, China promised it would preserve the city’s independent legal system, and gradually introduce “universal suffrage,” that is, free and open elections.

Under the proposed new law, citizens would elect the chief executive directly — a kind of universal suffrage — but only from a list of two or three candidates pre-approved by the Election Committee. To anti-Beijing protestors, the committee would be too loyal to China’s central government, limiting voters’ choices to only those candidates who “love China and love Hong Kong.”

On Twitter, Hong Kong academic George Chen mocked the law’s false choices with a picture of three soda cans side-by-side: Coca-Cola Cherry, Coca-Cola Cherry Zero or Diet Coke Cherry.

Hong Kong’s fake universal suffrage explained in 1 picture: Give you 3 choices of coke and you choose 1. Understand?! pic.twitter.com/PIymLycSKG

— George Chen (@george_chen) April 22, 2015

Many citizens of Hong Kong fear China is trying to impose greater Communist Party control on the long-democratic city. When the current “One country, two systems” status quo expires in 2047, they say, China hopes to be in a position to absorb the city into its political and legal system.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch called the law a “farce,” noting that “the right to vote and the right to stand for election” were both fundamental. By pushing through the new halfway measure, the group said, Hong Kong authorities were “denying half that equation.”

Despite the vehemence with which the last round of protests was broken up, pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong told Reuters the move would “trigger protests, whether occupying roads or civil disobedience.”

The law is now up to the city’s 70-member Legislative Council to approve. While some are trying to depict it as the only realistic compromise between pro-China and pro-democracy factions, others are more pessimistic.

In other words, as legislator Emily Lau described the dilemma, “it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

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