02/26/2008, 00.00
CHINA – HONG KONG – UK
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For Miliband democracy means rulers are chosen by the people

Asked by pan-democrats, UK foreign secretary tries to skirt the issue, but does say that a system is democratic if “people choose their own government” and the latter is accountable to them.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “The people choose their own government,” said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (photo) who is on a visit to Hong Kong and China. Asked about universal suffrage, he refused to be drawn into the local debate and said he wanted to “avoid glib definitions of democratic accountability and also avoid hubristic definitions”.

Never the less, he did state that the “simplest definition [of democracy] is that the people choose their own government,” adding that “we'll recognise [it] when we see it,” when people “decide on their government, and the accountability of the government to the people is clear.”

In Hong Kong people expect mainland China to agree to universal suffrage in the election of the Territory’s chief executive and legislative council (LegCo) in 2017 and 2020 respectively. But pan-democrats fear that Beijing will impose an electoral system that will give it the power to choose the candidates.

The government in fact issued a paper on Friday for discussion in its top political reform advisory body about the possibility of increasing seats for the business community in the Election Committee in 2012.

Currently, half of all LegCo seats are already elected by functional constituencies which exert greater power than most citizens.

Pan-democrats accuse Beijing of controlling these constituencies, steering them to pick candidates of its own choosing.

Pan-democrats asked Miliband whether a system could be considered democratic if the business community exercised greater power in selecting candidates than the electorate at large.

Before giving up sovereignty over the Crown colony, the United Kingdom negotiated Hong Kong’s status with mainland China and both sides agreed to a Basic Law to underpin a democratic form of government.

Since then though, Beijing has tried to weaken the Basic Law by interpreting it as it sees fit. Despite being a party to the agreement London has refrained from intervening even if only for clarifications.

Foreign Secretary Miliband has tried to avoid taking position on the matter but did reiterate that democracy means a government chosen by the people, and told Hong Kong lawmakers “to build consensus to reach the promised goal of universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020.”

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