Thu, Dec 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Tsang asks China for more freedom for Hong Kongers

AP , HONG KONG

Hong Kong's leader said yesterday he asked Beijing to allow greater democracy in the Chinese territory after more than half the population said they supported direct elections by 2012.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), in a rare televised broadcast, said he submitted a report to China's legislature outlining the desires of Hong Kong people to elect their leader and all of their lawmakers.

He said he asked that the former British colony be able to make the first changes to its election process by 2012, the date of the next leadership race, but didn't say what changes he proposed.

"In the report, I have stated that the community generally expects the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to be further democratized," Tsang said.

Tsang said the result of a three-month public consultation showed "more than half" of the public supported direct elections for his job by 2012.

However, he suggested that 2017 would be more likely to win the necessary two-thirds approval from the legislature, which is dominated by Beijing-friendly lawmakers.

Tsang did not propose a date for direct elections to the legislature, where only half of the 60 seats are elected by the public. Analysts said they were unlikely to take place before direct elections for the chief executive.

Tsang's five-year term as chief executive ends in 2012. Elections to the legislature are held every four years, with the next poll set for next year.

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 its legislators and its leader, although no date was given.

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

Tsang, a veteran civil servant, had pledged to resolve the issue of full democracy when he took office as the territory's leader in March.

Tsang's deputy, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Henry Tang (唐英年), told reporters Beijing's approval is necessary before any amendments to the electoral process can begin.

Analysts criticized the lack of a public roadmap toward direct elections, saying there was a lack of detail in Tang's report.

"If we're not going to be able to directly elect our leader and lawmakers until at least 2017, then what's going to happen in the intervening time between now and then?" political analyst Ma Ngok said.

"We have elections in 2012 and 2016, what will happen during those elections? Will they be exactly the same?" the Chinese University academic said.

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