Hong Kong lawmakers were yesterday accused of missing an opportunity to advance democracy by passing a controversial new bill to prepare for next year's leadership election.
The bill, passed by 31 votes to 21 late on Wednesday night following a five hour-debate, is aimed at smoothing out the chief executive election process, the next of which is due to take place next year.
It addressed a number of technical issues including the procedure when only one candidate is nominated, as was the case with Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權).
However, pro-democracy campaigners, who have been calling for a timetable for democracy and the relaxing of rules which bar election candidates with a political party membership, said the bill was a letdown for the people and it offered little in terms of progress to democracy.
Democratic Party Vice Chairman Albert Ho (何俊仁) said the bill was "shameful," while Margaret Ng (吳靄儀) of the Civic Party said it was "an opportunity lost."
Hong Kong is technically entitled to democracy from next year under the terms of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution by which it has been ruled since reverting to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
However, after pro-democracy marches, China intervened in 2004 to say Hong Kong was not ready for universal suffrage and must move towards it in an "orderly and gradual" manner.
Currently, only half of the city's 60 legislators are directly elected and there is no popular vote for the position of chief executive who is chosen by a 800-strong largely pro-Beijing election committee.
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam (林瑞麟) said the real mistake occurred when lawmakers voted against the government's constitutional reform proposal last December.
"We were quite willing to expand the size of the Election Committee from 800 members to 1,600 members and also to increase the number of LegCo [Legislative Council] members from 60 to 70. This would have enhanced the representativeness and legitimacy of the two elections," he said.