- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 23, 2010

HONG KONG | Pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators on Wednesday attacked a proposal for limited political reforms made by the territory’s Beijing-appointed government and tried to stall a vote expected to go in the administration’s favor.

If successful, the legislative reforms would be the first to pass in the semiautonomous former British colony since its change of sovereignty in 1997. Hong Kong's legislature voted down a similar package in 2005.

The opposition lawmakers denounced the plan to expand the 800-member committee that selects the territory’s leader to 1,200 people for the 2012 election cycle and add 10 seats to the 60-member legislature, which is half-elected and half chosen by interest groups. Many of the interest groups represent business interests that are loyal to Beijing.

Legislator Cyd Ho said the reform plan doesn’t change the structure of a fundamentally undemocratic political system.

“It still puts the interests of society’s elite over the public interest. It’s a regressive package,” Mr. Ho said.

Opponents of the bill tried to delay the vote with parliamentary tactics, prolonging what is already expected to be a marathon two-day session.

Pro-democracy legislator Albert Chan accused the Hong Kong government of trying to ram the bill through the legislature.

“You are not allowing rational debate. You are using rush tactics and the violence of a parliamentary majority to distort public opinion,” he said in the Legislative Council.

The bill is expected to pass because Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang struck a deal with the territory’s leading opposition party, the Democratic Party, giving him the required 40 votes for passage. At their suggestion, Mr. Tsang agreed on Monday to put all 10 new legislative seats to a popular vote.

The changes have split Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp in a tactical victory for Beijing. Hard-line factions have accused the Democrats of losing sight of their mission of genuinely free elections. The Democrats argue that the revised proposals are a good transition and that they will continue to campaign for full democracy.

One Democratic Party lawmaker announced during Wednesday’s debate that he will quit the party.

“I value my relationships with my Democratic Party colleagues, but I also have to be loyal to my beliefs and my campaign promises,” Andrew Cheng said.

Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho denied that the party had been co-opted by Beijing.

Once viewed as troublemakers by the communist government, the Democrats now find themselves in the unusual position of working with it. One of Beijing’s top representatives in Hong Kong held unprecedented talks with Mr. Ho and two other Democratic Party legislators about a month ago.

“If we continue to be stuck in a stalemate amid widening divisions in society, it will only make people from the mainstream who support democracy powerless and fed up,” Mr. Ho said.



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