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Hong Kong Government Sweetens Electoral Reform Package Ahead of Crucial Vote

Hong Kong's government has offered to make changes to its unpopular electoral reform package to appeal to pro-democracy lawmakers, ahead of a crucial vote on Wednesday. But the plan appears headed for defeat in the legislature with pro-democracy lawmakers set to vote against it because they say it falls short of granting full democracy.

The electoral reform package is Chief Executive Donald Tsang's first attempt at addressing increasing public demand for greater democracy since he became Hong Kong's leader in March.

The original plan expands the number of lawmakers in the legislative council and doubles the size of the committee that selects Hong Kong's leader to 1,600 mostly appointed members.

On Monday, faced with defeat at the hands of pro-democracy lawmakers in the legislature and public opposition, the government changed its formula by promising to increase the number of elected officials in the selection committee.

But the amendment has failed to win over pro-democracy lawmakers - who want a timetable as to when Hong Kong people can vote directly for their leader and lawmakers - a right enshrined in the city's mini-constitution, called the Basic Law.

Opposition lawmaker Ronny Tong says the government is failing to consider the public's demand for a timetable for universal suffrage and calls Monday's amendment "meaningless."

The government needs at least six votes from the opposition if the proposal is to pass in the 60-seat legislature on Wednesday.

On Monday, Mr. Tsang urged lawmakers to support the plan.

"I know that some legislators are adamant that a timetable for universal suffrage be set," he said. "I have stated on several occasions that the passage of the constitutional reform package in no way conflicts with the desire of a road map or timetable beyond 2008. The Basic Law clearly states our ultimate goal is the election of a chief executive and legislature by universal suffrage. The central government and the SAR government are steadfastly committed to this process."

Hong Kong people have held large protests in recent years calling for direct elections.

China has said universal suffrage must come gradually and has already ruled out direct elections for the chief executive in 2007 and all members of the legislature in 2008.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial rule in 1997, but it enjoys a high level of autonomy compared to other Chinese cities and maintains its Western style civil liberties.