Beijing allows Hong Kong to elect its leader by 2017
HONG KONG: Hong Kong will be allowed to directly elect its leader in 2017 and all of its lawmakers by 2020 at the earliest, China said Saturday, an announcement that sparked protests by pro-democracy activists who sought an earlier date.
"A timetable for obtaining universal suffrage has been set," the former British colony's leader, Donald Tsang, said in announcing the decision early Saturday. "Hong Kong is entering a most important chapter of its constitutional history."
Political analysts noted that candidates contesting the leadership race may still need to be nominated by an electoral committee and that Beijing will likely remain involved in the election process.
Setting a timetable for universal suffrage would help end conflicts in Hong Kong and allow the bustling financial hub to focus on developing its economy, said Qiao Xiaoyang, a senior member of China's parliament who flew to Hong Kong to explain the decision.
He said Hong Kong would be allowed to choose its leader through a direct election in 2017, and all its lawmakers by 2020 at the earliest. Changes would need to be made gradually, starting in 2012, the date of the next leadership race, he said, without saying what those changes may be.
The widely expected announcement dealt a blow to Hong Kong's
opposition pro-democracy camp, which had campaigned heavily for full
democracy in 2012 for both the leadership and legislative polls.
Hundreds of people marched through central Hong Kong in protest,
saying they had been cheated out of their right to full democracy.
Holding banners that read "democracy delayed is democracy denied," they
accused Beijing of failing to listen to the wishes of Hong Kong's 7
"We are extremely disappointed — you could say we are furious —
about this decision in ruling out 2012," Democrat Party chairman Albert
Ho told Hong Kong government-run RTHK radio station. "The wishes of the
Hong Kong people have been totally ignored."
When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule 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.
Presently, 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 Beijing loyalists.
In calling for direct elections in 2012, opposition democrats say
Hong Kong is mature enough to choose its own government. But Beijing
and its allies in Hong Kong's legislature have appealed for a more
Tsang urged all parties to put aside their differences and start
thinking about how to implement direct elections for the chief
executive in 2017. A task force will be set up to discuss how to amend
electoral methods, with the first changes made in 2012, he said.
No details about those interim changes were released, but political
observers have said they could include expanding the committee that
chooses the chief executive.
In 2017, a nomination committee is expected to select a "certain
number" of candidates that the Hong Kong electorate will then vote
upon, according to a copy of the decision announced Saturday that was
released by China's parliament.
The number of candidates and selection process was not revealed, but
Hong Kong's leader had suggested between two and four candidates in a
proposal he submitted this month to Beijing, the document said.
Li Pang-kwong, a political analyst at Lingnan University, said
Beijing had not completely given up its control of Hong Kong's
political scene. Any changes to the electoral process still needed to
win a two-thirds majority in the legislature, which is dominated by
Beijing's allies, as well as further approval from China, he said.