Hong Kong passed an electoral reform package yesterday, winning over enough skeptical opposition lawmakers to back changes that could pave the way for universal suffrage in 2017 as promised by Beijing.
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.
“This lays down a milestone in Hong Kong’s democratic development,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), who 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 told reporters.
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.
“This is the darkest day in Hong Kong’s democratic development,” yelled radical pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Chan (陳偉業), before storming out of the legislature.
Chan was one of 12 pro-democracy lawmakers voting against the package.
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 Beijing, analysts said.
“The passage of the reform proposal is the first time that the democrats have reached any kind of political agreement with Beijing,” said Ma Ngok (馬嶽), a political scientist at Hong Kong’s Chinese University. “It’s a historic compromise and this can serve as a ... starting point or rapport between the two sides.”
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.
The chairman of the Democratic Party, Albert Ho (何俊仁), 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.
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