Hong Kong votes on new legislature Sunday after China changed course on a controversial new education booklet extolling one-party rule. The move may affect the elections, having been announced on Saturday after continued massive protests.
About 3.4 million of the city’s 7 million people are eligible to directly elect just over half the seats in the 70-seat legislative council on Sunday, according to Reuters. Some analysts believe that the move will ease pressure on elected officials that lean towards closer ties with mainland China. Others believe the decision may sway political power into the hands of those politicians who favor more Hong Kong independence.
“It will, at least, contain the damage, and I’m sure it will relieve the pressure on the pro-establishment and the pro-Beijing candidates,” said political scientist Joseph Wong.
CY Leung, the city's chief executive, announced on Saturday that the controversial plan would no longer be mandatory, but rather could be implemented by individual schools if they choose.
"We're giving the authority to the schools," he said. "This is very much in line with our school-based education policy."
Leung however, denied that the compromise move was timed to ease any political tensions, and affirmed his belief that the new approach was the best solution.
“I believe the new policy can meet a wide range of ideas and should be able to get the largest consensus," he said after the voting on Sunday, as reported by the Associated Press. The election results will become known Monday.
China changed course on the issue after large, drawn out protests immediately followed the presentation of “The China Model”, a booklet meant to act as an early education guide for children six years and older starting this academic year. The booklet, which contains civic ethics lessons, but also glorifies one-party rule and ignores the Tiananmen Square protests, was to become compulsory by 2016.
Protestors have been gathering by the thousands since late August, saying the new curriculum is propaganda and nothing more than an attempt by the Chinese government to indoctrinate Hong Kong’s children.
Despite backing-off the booklet Saturday, an enormous crowd still gathered in the streets surrounding Hong Kong’s local government headquarters on the eve of legislative elections. Organizers put the figure of attendees at 100,000, and police at 27,500, as reported by the New York Times.
It remains to be seen whether or not the move will mollify the protestors.
“We just want to cancel the whole subject,” Sam Chan, a 19-year-old community college student said, as reported on Saturday. “People want to protect our future and our sons’ futures.”
Leung has taken precautions to keep the protests peaceful, ordering that they not be cleared, and even offering the protestors umbrellas as they sat through pouring rain on some occasions.
Hong Kong existed as a British colony on a 100-year lease until 1997, when it was ceded to mainland China. As a result, Hong Kong enjoys special privileges not seen in the rest of the country, such as a free press and the right to assemble peacefully. China maintains what it calls a “one country, two systems” approach to the territory, allowing it to maintain its own political system and sense of identity apart from the mainland.