06/25/2010, 00.00
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Pan-democratic split gets reform package through

by Annie Lam
The Beijing-sponsored reform fails to abolish functional constituencies or implement universal suffrage. The Democratic Party switches at the last moment and backs the government. Pro-democracy movement feels dejected.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp was split today when the necessary two-third majority endorsed the government's political reform package after a 26-hour debate over a three-day period. Under the new rules, the Legislative Council (LegCo) will get ten more seats. The vote was 46 in favour and 12 opposed.

The government’s package of proposals, which applies to both the LegCo and the Office of the Chief Executive, won with a crucial eight votes from the Democratic Party (DP). Currently, Hong Kong’s legislature has 60 seats, 30 elected directly by the Special Administrative Region’s voters, and 30, by the pro-Beijing  electoral college that represents functional constituencies. Now there will be 35 seats for each college, except Hong Kong voters will directly elect five of the 35 seats representing functional constituencies. Thus, 40 of the 70 seats in the enlarged LegCo will be elected by popular vote.

In 2007, Beijing said that elections based on the principle of universal suffrage would not be held before 2017 and has not set any date for when they might occur.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang told a press conference that adoption of the constitutional reform was “historic”, a “milestone in Hong Kong's democratic development.”

For the first time since the 1997 handover, the LegCo used procedures stipulated in the Hong Kong Basic Law in order to change the rules of selecting the chief executive and LegCo members, he said.

The government, Tsang added, will consult LegCo members on election rules for the 2012 elections before summer recess in July, and would bring forward legislation on the two elections and abolition of the systems of district board appointments in autumn.

Pan-democrats had called for universal suffrage in both elections, demanding the total abolition of functional constituency by the legislature. However, this time the DP backed the government’s proposal for 2012, which did not include either demand.

For Pan-democrat legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, a Protestant and leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions, the central government in Beijing was the big winner, giving the impression that its intervention was all it took to split the pro-democracy camp. “Pan-democrats lost their unity in this battle,” he said; now they must put down their differences and cooperate.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu, a Catholic, told the press the proposal weakened the movement towards universal suffrage; now, the functional constituency system set up in 1985 would be hard to abolish.

However, DP Chairman Albert Ho said that the reform package marked a breakthrough in Hong Kong's political development, even if his party’s move caused many to be disappointed and lose trust in them.

He urged pan-democrats to unite to fight for full democracy in the years ahead and pledged that his party would work to re-gain their trust.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, who called for more time for consultation on the revised package, did not wish to comment.      Jackie Hung, project officer at the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, told AsiaNews that more people are ready to go at it alone in the fight for democracy, rather than rely on political parties.

Hundreds of youths and elderly braved heavy rains outside the building of the Legislative Council, calling for withdrawal of the proposal (pictured).

Ms Hung, who is the Commission’s delegate at the Civil Human Rights Front, said she was deeply disappointed by the voting result and the DP, who suddenly changed their stand.

Without the abolition of functional constituencies, many people, including minorities, will still suffer and their living conditions not improve, she said.

The upcoming great rally scheduled for 1 July was supposed to back universal suffrage against functional constituency. Now, Ms Hung told AsiaNews, organisers would have to discuss how they can go ahead with the march and rally. Democratic Party is a member of the Front.

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