HK may have elected leader by 2017

AP   December 30, 2007

Beijing regime may allow Hong Kong to directly elect its leader by 2017 and all its lawmakers by 2020, the territory's chief executive said yesterday, sparking protests by democracy activists who sought an earlier date.

"A timetable for obtaining universal suffrage has been set," Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) said. "Hong Kong is entering the most important chapter of its constitutional history."

Beijing regime had last week been debating Hong Kong's political development and in an announcement carried by Xinhua news agency yesterday said it could allow direct elections for the territory's leader in 2017. Direct elections for all lawmakers could follow, it said, without giving a date, although Tsang said he would aim for 2020.

The announcement dealt a blow to Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp who had campaigned heavily for full democracy in 2012, the date of the next leadership and legislative polls.

Several hundred people marched through central Hong Kong to protest the decision, saying they had been cheated out of their right to full democracy. Holding banners that read "democracy delayed is democracy denied" they accused Beijing regime of failing to listen to the wishes of Hong Kong's 7 million people.

"We are extremely disappointed -- you could say we are furious -- about this decision in ruling out 2012," Democrat Party Chairman Albert Ho (何俊仁) told the Hong Kong government-run RTHK radio station.

"The wishes of the Hong Kong people have been totally ignored," he said.

When Hong Kong was annexed by China in 1997, it was granted a wide degree of autonomy and a pledge that it would ultimately be allowed to directly elect all of its legislators and its leader, although no date was ever given.

Only half of the 60-seat legislature is elected and the territory's top leader, or chief executive, is chosen by an 800-strong committee full of autocratic Beijing loyalists.

In calling for direct elections in 2012, opposition democrats say the bustling financial center is mature enough to choose its own government. But Beijing regime and its allies in Hong Kong's legislature have appealed for a more gradual approach.

Tsang urged all parties to put aside their differences and start thinking about how to implement direct elections for the chief executive in 2017.

"We must treasure this hard-earned opportunity," he said.

A taskforce will be set up to discuss how to amend electoral methods, with the first changes made in 2012, he said at the news conference.