The woman once described as "Hong Kong's conscience" said yesterday she will fight an election for the first time, in an effort to galvanize the pro-democracy movement in the territory.
Anson Chan (陳方安生), the former deputy leader, will stand in an upcoming by-election in one of the territory's few openly contested seats, to try to reinvigorate democrats struggling to win universal suffrage.
"For me this is a defining moment, an opportunity to put to the test all the values I hold dear," she told reporters.
"I have taken this decision only after the most careful consideration of the implications of my personal position, but more importantly, for my potential role in furthering the democratic good governance in Hong Kong," she said.
Chan, who has become a figurehead for the pro-democracy movement here since she marched against an electoral reform package in 2005, had appeared to rule out standing for office last week.
But she said frustration with Hong Kong's slow progress towards full democracy had weighed on her.
"I have come to the conclusion that you need political capital to make your voice more effectively heard," she said, when asked what had changed her mind.
"I need to put my money where my mouth is," she said.
Currently only half of Hong Kong's 60 lawmakers in the Legislative Council (Legco) are chosen directly, with the other half elected by business elites from various sectors.
The seat Chan will contest was opened up by the death of pro-Beijing politician Ma Lik (
Pro-democrats hope the presence of a political heavyweight will turn the by-election into a wider referendum on universal suffrage in the territory, which was guaranteed in principle when Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain, but has yet to be introduced.
Democratic politicians welcomed Chan's move, which comes as Chief Executive Donald Tsang (
"By contesting the by-election she is shouldering the historical responsibility to push forward democracy during this critical period of the public consultation," Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho (
Tsang unveiled the long-awaited green paper in July, but it has been criticized as failing to make firm proposals and being too deferential to concerns from Beijing over the impact of democracy here.
It suggested the possibility that both the chief executive and Legco seats could be chosen by 2012, but reports since have suggested that the option of 2017 is much more likely.
The document emphasized that the process should proceed in a "gradual and orderly" manner in accordance with the Basic Law mini-constitution used to govern the territory since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Chan, who was given the "conscience" tag in a Newsweek magazine profile, said yesterday that it was "abundantly clear" that Hong Kong people wanted universal suffrage by 2012.
She criticized Tsang for not fighting harder for democracy.