HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s leader Leung Chun-ying has said open elections would result in the city’s many poor dominating politics, as he ruled out democratic reforms before crucial talks aimed at ending three weeks of protest rallies.
In an interview with foreign media, carried in the Wall Street Journal and International New York Times hours before talks were due to start between student leaders and officials, embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying said free elections were impossible.
Leung, whose resignation protesters have demanded, said if leadership candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society – the city’s poor – would likely dominate the electoral process.
“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month,” he said in the interview.
Some major intersections in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city have been paralysed for more than three weeks by mass rallies demanding free elections, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing’s authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.
China has offered Hong Kongers the chance to vote for their next chief executive in 2017. But only those vetted by a committee expected to be loyal to Beijing will be allowed to stand – a proposal activists have labelled a “fake democracy”.
The protests are taking place against a backdrop of rising inequality and soaring housing costs which leave many young people with little prospect of renting, let alone buying, their own homes in a city with one of Asia’s widest wealth gaps.
Though largely peaceful, the rallies saw increasing violence in the past week as police tried to clear some of the intersections.
The talks are scheduled to begin at 6pm (1000 GMT) and will be broadcast live on TV. Demonstrators say large screens will be erected at the protest camps.