11/19/2009, 00.00
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For Justice and Peace Commission, Hong Kong government taking backward steps on democracy

by Annie Lam
The territory’s government released a package of political reforms that would change little to the current electoral system. Neither the direct election of the chief executive nor universal suffrage in legislature's election would be achieved. For Henry Tang, this is “the best deal” Beijing would allow. A seminar is organised with the participation of Cardinal Zen, political leaders and scholars.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Political reforms proposed by the Hong Kong government constitute a backward step on democracy because they do not include any move towards universal suffrage, said Jackie Hung, a project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong who has been pushing the authorities to implement full democracy by 2012.

Yesterday, the Hong Kong government unveiled a plan for political reform within 2012, which should lead to “greater democracy” and pave the way for universal suffrage in 2017.

Under the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, the territory would have full democracy. However, Beijing has centralised all decisions with regard to political reform.

Currently, the chief executive is not elected directly on the basis of universal suffrage, but is elected by an 800-strong election committee, made up of mostly pro-Beijing electors.

The legislature is made up of 60 seats, half of which are directly elected. The other 30 functional constituency seats are selected by electors from professional sectors.

According to the proposed reform, the Election Committee would expand to 1,200 members and the seats on the LegCo would go from 60 to 70.

For Jackie Hung, this “blueprint is a regression of democracy”. She said the last reform package in 2005 proposed 1,600 electors for the Chief Executive, but only has 1,200 in this proposal.

The government’s reluctance to take a big step in the democratic process shows it wants to control the voting mechanism of the legislature, she noted. It also shows that the central government has little trust in Hong Kong people.

Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang Ying-yen reiterated that it was “the best deal” Beijing would allow.

For Beijing, the direct election of the chief executive might be done by 2017 and universal suffrage for the LegCo might be implemented in 2020.

"All we can do is raise Catholics’ consciousness about the political reforms, and how these restrict the progress of democracy,” Ms Hung noted.

Some civic organizations have suggested holding a march to oppose the reform package, and the Commission might join if the plan is realized.

In the meantime, the Commission will hold a seminar on political reform on January 17, 2010. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, LegCo Member Wong Yuk-man, and political affairs scholar Ma Ngok will speak at the seminar.

The political reform package requires two-thirds of the Legislative Council to pass. However, there is a chance it may be vetoed by pan-democrats, who vetoed the last reform package in 2005.

For its part, the government has launched a three-month consultation process until Chinese New Year, in mid-February, before tabling the final proposal.

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