Hong Kong Legislature Passes Electoral Law As Deal Struck With Democrats

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council approved a package that sets the pace for expanding the city’s democracy, overcoming concerns from opponents that the plan won’t move it down the path of universal suffrage.

LegCo members voted 46-12 today on Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s proposal for expanding the size of the lawmaking body by 10 seats to 70, a day after approving a plan for selecting his successor in 2012.

“This is the most major adjustment to the constitution since 1997,” said Christine Loh, chief executive of think tank Civic Exchange. Since Britain returned Hong Kong to China that year, it’s been governed by the Basic Law, which enshrines the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that guided the handover.

The democracy package passed after the government agreed to changes proposed by the opposition Democratic Party. The compromise represented all that “Beijing is prepared to accept,” said Loh, a former lawmaker.

“History will prove the reform today is a decisive step in a right direction,” Tsang told reporters today. “This is the victory of rationality.”

LegCo had voted 46-13 yesterday on a measure that will see the number of people who choose the chief executive increased from 800 to 1,200. The members of the Election Committee are appointees sanctioned by China.

Protests

Among those fighting the package were lawmaker Leung Kwok- hung, who was ejected from the LegCo chamber minutes before the vote as he shouted “this is fake universal suffrage.” The three-day debate was carried live on local television.

A statement issued on the website of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council after the vote said “The central government stands firm on promoting the democratic development of Hong Kong’s political system in line with the Basic Law and the decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.”

LegCo now has 60 lawmakers, 30 chosen by business groups and associations representing so-called functional constituencies.

“I don’t think directly elected members are superior to FC members,” lawmaker Sophie Leung, who holds a functional constituency seat representing the textile and garment industry, said before the vote.

The package stipulates that the 10 new lawmakers on the council are to be chosen by Hong Kong’s 3.2 million eligible voters. Originally five were to be directly elected and five were to be chosen by 405 directly elected district councilors.

‘People’s Victory’

“This is a victory for democracy and Hong Kong’s people,” Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang told supporters outside the legislature after the vote. The chief secretary is appointed by the chief executive and endorsed by the Central Peoples Government of China.

The pro-democracy Civic Party’s five lawmakers were calling for universal suffrage in 2012, five years earlier than China plans to let the public vote for the chief executive and eight years before planned direct elections of all LegCo members. They also seek the abolition of all functional-constituency seats.

“This is the darkest day and functional constituencies will last forever,” said League of Social Democrats lawmaker Wong Yuk-man as he walked out of LegCo immediately after the vote was tallied.

To contact the reporters on this story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong at fbalfour@bloomberg.net

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