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Hong Kong’s Tsang Makes Last-Ditch Voting Compromise

Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive
Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, in Hong Kong, earlier this year. Twenty-three pro-democracy lawmakers, including Eu’s Civic Party, have vowed to block the proposal. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang offered to revise proposed changes to the electoral system in a bid to win over opposition lawmakers and ensure his second attempt to deliver constitutional reform succeeds.

The new plan adopts a proposal by the Democratic Party that the 10 new seats on the city’s Legislative Council are chosen by all voters, Tsang told reporters today. Pro-democracy groups had threatened to block the government’s package, in which half of the seats would have been chosen by business groups representing so-called functional constituencies.

“The revised proposal is more democratic and will pave the way for universal suffrage,” Tsang said.

The government needs support from two-thirds of the 60 LegCo members to succeed when they vote on June 23. The nine Democrats had been among 23 pro-democracy lawmakers who had said they would block the package. Some opposition members said they would vote against the amended plan because it preserves functional constituency seats, which aren’t directly elected.

“We are worried that these detours in the government proposal will make it even harder to achieve universal suffrage,” Alan Leong, a LegCo member from the Civic Party, said in a telephone interview today. Still, with the likely support of all nine Democratic Party lawmakers, the proposal will pass, Leong said.

Popularity Contest

The government had been seeking feedback from the public for the past six months on its original proposal envisioning five new functional constituency seats and five seats directly elected, and to substitute it with a new version at the last minute was unacceptable, Civic Party members said.

“The revision gives an excuse for the functional constituencies to stay on,” said Audrey Eu, leader of the Civic Party who bested Tsang in a televised debate on June 17 according to polls. “This takes us away from the goal of universal suffrage.” Eu said all five Civic Party members would vote against the new resolution.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told Tsang in December to “handle constitutional development issues properly to ensure social harmony.”

Tsang’s predecessor Tung Chee-hwa stepped down from his post in 2005, more than two years early, after a botched attempt to push through separate China-sponsored constitutional changes.

Tsang’s own popularity has been slipping amid the wrangle over elections, polls show. On June 4, about 113,000 people attended a candlelight vigil to mark the 21st anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, the largest number since 1989 according to police estimates.

Democracy Timetable

While Hong Kong has multiple political parties and more civil liberties than in mainland China, the central government controls the pace and direction of constitutional changes under the “one country, two systems” formula struck when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997. The timetable for greater democracy was set by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

Eu is calling for universal suffrage in 2012, five years earlier than China’s plans for letting the public vote for the chief executive and eight years before planned direct elections of all LegCo members.

Two Ballots

The revised plan entails two ballots for each voter, one for the five new geographical constituencies and one for so-called functional constituencies, Tsang said today. Local district counselors would nominate candidates for the five functional constituency seats.

The revision “shows the government’s sincerity to promote progress in democracy in Hong Kong,” Tsang said.

The revised proposal is consistent with the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution, Wong Yan Lung, the secretary for justice, said at the briefing.

Results of a random survey of 934 households conducted by the Hong Kong Transition project between June 4 and June 14 indicate a majority of the respondents “express dissatisfaction with the Chief Executive’s performance,” said Michael DeGolyer, a professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, who heads the study.

Sixty-three percent of respondents favored the abolition of functional constituencies representing key industries such as banking, law and manufacturing. That’s up from 55 percent of those polled from May 6 to May 15.

“A lot of people are connecting the business domination of the functional constituencies with unfair policies they are experiencing,” said DeGolyer.

The number of people living in poverty in Hong Kong in the first nine months of last year rose 19 percent, the South China Morning Post reported May 12, citing government data.


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