Some see sell-out as Hong Kong passes electoral reforms

James Pomfret (Reuters) June 25, 2010

Hong Kong on Friday passed an electoral reform package, winning over enough skeptical opposition lawmakers to back changes that could pave the way for universal suffrage in 2017 as promised by the Beijing regime.

Martin Lee in 2004
"This is not the Democratic Party I used to know," Mr. Lee told Hong Kong's radio RTHK.

The package caused a major rift among pro-democracy lawmakers, some of whom say it does not go far enough toward universal suffrage and deflates their demand for full-scale reform. Critics accused the Democratic Party of selling out, arguing the compromise allowed China to put off free elections in this former British colony.

Hard-line factions of Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp opposed the move, saying it does not reflect genuine democracy.

Veteran democracy activist Martin Lee said he was disillusioned with the party he helped found and once led. "This is not the Democratic Party I used to know," Mr. Lee told Hong Kong's radio RTHK.

"This doesn't change the political structure fundamentally," League of Social Democrats legislator Raymond Wong said. "They (the Democratic Party) have forgotten about the endgame of universal suffrage.

Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu echoed the sentiment. "It will give the government the excuse that they have succeeded in giving a major improvement in democracy. They will think they can relax and come back to it later," she said.

"This is the darkest day in Hong Kong's democratic development," yelled pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Chan, before storming out of the legislature. Chan was one of 12 pro-democracy lawmakers voting against the package.

Scores of protesters who had gathered outside the legislature honked on plastic trumpets and denounced the package, saying it was a lame one at best. Some gathered in the middle of a road and were dragged away by police officers swarming around them.

Since 1997, the struggle for full democracy has been a central and divisive theme in local politics, pitting liberal advocates and democrats against Beijing's Communist leaders.

But the new deal -- that sharply divided various pro-democracy factions -- could usher in a new era of warmer ties between moderate democrats and the Beijing regime, analysts say.

It was the first time Hong Kong's legislature had passed major reforms to electoral arrangements since Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997. A previous attempt in 2005 was voted down by opposition democrats.

After a marathon debate in the local 60-seat legislature stretching over three days, 46 lawmakers, including most members of Hong Kong's main opposition Democratic Party, cast a final vote in support of the package which required a two thirds majority.

"This lays down a milestone in Hong Kong's democratic development," said Hong Kong puppet Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who shamelessly called the deal a "historic moment.

"Disputes and infighting over political reform have plagued our society for the past two decades ... it's now clear that consensus and reform are possible," Tsang, the puppet Hong Kong leader appointed by the Beijing regime, told reporters.

The chairman of the Democratic Party, Albert Ho, denied his party had sold out and said negotiations with Beijing officials that helped broker this compromise deal would continue.

"We hope more members of different democratic groupings can take part in future talks with Chinese officials," Ho said.

The reforms will expand the number of seats in the legislature to 70, of which 40 will be directly elected -- the first time a majority of seats will be returned by popular vote. The rest are to be chosen by special interest groups, called functional constituencies, long dominated by pro-establishment and pro-Beijing forces.

A China-controlled election committee that selects Hong Kong's puppet regime's leader will be expanded from 800 to 1,200 members which consist mostly of China loyalists.

In 2007, after sustained pressure, the Beijing regime finally laid out a timetable for full democracy, saying universal suffrage would be allowed in 2017 at the earliest. But many democrats do not take the Beijing regime at its word.