HONG KONG, June 17- Hong Kong entered a political showdown Wednesday as lawmakers debated a divisive reform package ahead of a key vote, with tensions high over an alleged explosives plot that police said was linked to a “radical” group.
The vote pits democracy campaigners against the government in the culmination of a fraught chapter which saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets last year over the controversial electoral roadmap.
Although the government’s reform proposal would for the first time give all residents the right to vote for the chief executive in 2017, it adheres to a Beijing ruling that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.
The plan is derided as “fake democracy” by opposition lawmakers, who have vowed to vote against it and deny the two thirds majority it needs to pass.
Authorities in Hong Kong have said repeatedly they cannot diverge from Beijing’s August ruling, which sparked weeks of mass rallies that brought parts of the city to a standstill.
The debate began Wednesday afternoon, with the vote expected to take place by Friday.
Deputy leader Carrie Lam, one of the first speakers, warned that reform would be off the table if the package was blocked.
“This administration cannot re-launch the (reform) process political development will inevitably come to a standstill.”
A front page editorial in China’s People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying “social chaos” could ensue otherwise.
“One of the starting points to promote long term prosperity and stability in Hong Kong is the promotion of universal suffrage,” it said.
Pro-democracy lawmakers sat with multi coloured placards marked with a cross to signal their intention to reject the bill.
Hundreds of protesters from both sides gathered outside the legislature earlier Wednesday, separated by metal barriers.
Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong urged cheering pro-democracy supporters to “continue to fight”.