Hong Kong passes democratic reform package

Hong Kong`s legislature has agreed to add ten elected seats.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong`s legislature on Friday agreed to add 10 elected seats, completing a set of Beijing-backed electoral changes that critics say reinforce the territory`s undemocratic political system.

The legislators approved the proposed changes by a vote of 46-12, concluding a three-day marathon debate. On Thursday, they cleared a measure that expands Hong Kong`s leader selection committee from 800 to 1,200 people for the 2012 election cycle.

Hong Kong`s Beijing-appointed government has billed the proposals as a form of democratisation in the semiautonomous territory, but critics say they only beef up an electoral system skewed in favour of the Chinese government.

"This is the darkest day in the history of Hong Kong`s development of democracy," opposition legislator Albert Chan shouted in the legislative chamber after the changes were passed.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang was able to secure passage of both bills by winning over the former British colony`s leading opposition, the Democratic Party. Tsang agreed to a proposal by the Democrats that the 10 new legislative seats be put to a popular vote. The current 60-member Legislative Council is half-elected, half chosen by professional and business sectors, many of whom are loyal to Beijing.

Hard-line pro-democracy lawmakers made a last-minute appeal to their colleagues earlier Friday, warning the limited changes further entrench a pro-Beijing and pro-business bias, while delaying the prospect of free elections.

"The result of this so-called `progress` in the constitutional system may very well be the end of our journey to democracy instead of the advancement we were hoping for," said legislator Andrew Cheng, who quit the Democratic Party in protest on Wednesday.

"There is no reason our political system should protect the powerful, the rich, people with connections, people with influence and people with resources," lawmaker Audrey Eu said.

The Democrats, who have been besieged with accusations of betrayal during the debate, defended their compromise, saying their supporters are sick of political stalemate. Hong Kong`s pro-democracy camp blocked a similar package of electoral changes in 2005.

"There is a large group of middle-class citizens who feel a strong powerlessness about the inability of the constitutional system to progress," Democrat Lee Wing-tat said.

Bureau Report