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Hong Kong passes electoral reform

By Elizabeth Yuan, CNN
  • New reform package represents compromise between Beijing, democrats
  • Goal is for universal suffrage to elect Chief Executive in 2017, Legislative Council in 2020
  • Opponents: No roadmap given to universal suffrage
  • Territory operates under a "one country two systems" policy under Chinese rule

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Friday passed a compromise electoral reform package that paves the way for universal suffrage in the Chinese territory.

"It is a very important day. It is a new milestone of the Hong Kong political development," said Tam Yiu-chung of the Pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, after the vote.

He was among 46 lawmakers, including moderates, who backed the bill, which required a vote of 40, or a two-thirds majority threshold, to pass. Twelve others, including all five members of the pro-democracy Civic Party, voted against it.

Opponents wanted a swifter timetable than what the new law proposes: universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and for Legislative Council in 2020. They also said the package did not set any roadmap for that goal, leaving uncertainty.

Video: Hong Kong begins electoral reform debate
We must have a roadmap to genuine universal suffrage which abolish all functional constituencies
--Margaret Ng, Civic Party and opponent of package
  • Hong Kong
  • China

Hong Kong operates under a "one country two systems" policy under Chinese rule. The territory was handed over by Britain to China in 1997, and maintains a legal and administrative system separate from mainland China. The territory's leader -- the chief executive -- is selected by an election committee comprised of people selected by Beijing. Only half of the 60-seat Hong Kong legislature is directly elected. The other half is selected by "functional constituencies" -- groups that are based on professions

Under the new package, the committee to elect the territory's leader -- the chief executive - next year will be increased from 800 to 1200, comprising people representing business, social, professional and other sectors; the Legislative Council; district representatives and Hong Kong representatives to mainland Chinese political bodies.

The new package also increases the number of lawmakers in the Hong Kong legislature from 60 to 70, half representing geographical constituencies and the other half by "functional constituencies" -- groups that are based on professions.

In a speech Wednesday, Margaret Ng of the Civic Party said the package also preserves the functional constituency system that allots seats to representatives of professional and industry sectors. Opponents like Ng say that functional constituencies may act with a vested interest in the sectors they represent -- and risk being pressured to take pro-Beijing stances.

"No one can take away the truth that innumerable citizens of Hong Kong have come to realize: that we must have a roadmap to genuine universal suffrage which abolish all functional constituencies," Ng said.

Lawmaker Tam said there was plenty of time to study any changes needed for functional constituencies.

Supporters of the reform package have capitalized on World Cup fever, with banners outside the Legislative Council building reading, "Go! Go! Go! Goal! Goal! Goal!" and opponents carrying vuvuzelas.

The proposals being debated in Hong Kong represent a compromise between Beijing and some democrats in Hong Kong. But even pro-democracy activists are divided on the path to universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

On Wednesday Duncan Tai, among the crowd outside the Legislative Council building supporting the reform package, said he and others weren't "pro-government," but that the package was a step forward. "If the bill is not passed, then we have to start again," he said.