The Hong Kong government yesterday proposed electoral changes that would continue to limit direct elections, reflecting Beijing’s wary stance on democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
While Beijing has allowed the former British colony to maintain separate political and economic systems that protect Western-style civil liberties, it has continued to limit the impact of elections.
Hong Kong’s current leader was chosen by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing, while the 60-member legislature is half-elected, half chosen by interest groups that also tend to side with the Chinese government.
Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang (唐英年) told legislators yesterday that the government wanted to expand the leader selection committee to 1,200 people for the 2012 election cycle.
The territory’s No. 2 official also proposed expanding the legislature to 70 members — but maintaining the 50:50 ratio of elected and interest group seats.
Albert Ho (何俊仁), chairman of the Democratic Party, the leading opposition party, said his party would oppose the reform package.
Ho compared the proposals to “making small changes to a bird cage.”
The proposals, which require 40 votes in the legislature, will likely be blocked by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy political opposition.
Hardline opposition lawmakers want direct elections of all political offices immediately, while moderate figures say they will support limited reform only if there is a clear promise of genuine democracy at a fixed date.
The standing committee of China’s legislature ruled in December 2007 that Hong Kong could elect its leader in 2017 and its entire legislature in 2020, but pro-democracy legislators fear that Beijing may try to rig those elections.
Urging support for gradual reform, Tang said in a speech yesterday: “Rome was not built in one day, but passing the 2012 electoral reform package will help pave the way to Rome.”
In response, opposition lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人) said: “I want you to clarify exactly which Rome you mean. Is it the Rome under fascist rule, under Mussolini’s rule?” — a reference to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
The proposals also come about a month before a closely watched special election for the legislature on May 16.
Five pro-democracy legislators triggered the by-election by resigning in January, hoping to turn the contest into a de facto territory-wide referendum on democracy.
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