China on Sunday ruled out allowing open nominations in elections for the Hong Kong's next leader, in a move that could ignite tension in the Asian financial hub where the democracy advocates have threatened to shut down the main business district in protest.
Rejecting calls by democracy activists in the former British colony to permit Hong Kongers to directly elect their chief executive from an open list of candidates, China's rubber-stamp Parliament -- the National People's Congress -- ruled that candidates must receive more than half of votes from a special nominating body before going before voters.
The NPC's move is expected to spark strong reactions from Hong Kong where series of demonstrations are being held demanding direct election of the chief executive to fulfill the promises made by Beijing when Hong Kong returned from British rule to China in 1997.
Democracy activists in the semi-autonomous Chinese city have threatened to shut down the Hong Kong's main business district if Beijing refused to allow the direct election.
China has warned activists against disruptive protests, saying that it has the right to determine how Hong Kong's government is run.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 under an agreement that guarantees civil liberties including the right to protest.
Since then, the city's leader has been chosen by a pro-Beijing committee. The issue has seen political tensions in Hong Kong soar.
The NPC decision released by official media in Beijing on Sunday said that when the selection of the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is implemented by the method of universal suffrage, a broadly representative nominating committee shall be formed.
Starting from 2017, the selection of the HKSAR chief executive may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage. The decision stipulated that provisions for the number of members, composition and formation method of the nominating committee shall be made in accordance with the number of members, composition and formation method of the election committee for the fourth chief executive.
"The nominating committee shall nominate two to three candidates for the office of the chief executive in accordance with democratic procedure. Each candidate must have the endorsement of more than half of all the members of the nominating committee," the NPC decided.
All eligible electors of the region have the rights to vote in the election of the chief executive and elect one of the candidates for the office of the chief executive, it said.
The chief executive-elect, after being selected through universal suffrage, will have to be appointed by the Central People's Government, the decision ruled.
The NPC decision came as Chui Sai On was elected the fourth-term chief executive-designate of China's Macao Special Administrative Region, which has similar regulations as Hong Kong. Macau was returned to the Chinese sovereignty from the Portuguese administration in 1999.
Image: Pro-democracy activists walk past a backdrop with Chinese characters that read "disobedience", built for an Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign, near the financial Central district in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters