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Hong Kong Democrats Field Candidate For First Time in Leadership Race


A pro-democracy lawmaker is running against the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong for the city's top post. Alan Leong's candidacy marks the first time Hong Kong's democratic alliance fields a candidate in the leadership race. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Hong Kong.

Lawmaker Alan Leong declared his candidacy Wednesday, calling it a "historic" moment for Hong Kong.

"This is the first time ever since the reversal of sovereignty in 1997 that a democratically elected legislative councilor can challenge the incumbent who has the blessing of Beijing as a formal chief executive candidate," he said.

But few here expect him to win.

An 800-member committee - composed largely of pro-Beijing politicians and business leaders - elects Hong Kong's next leader. Chief Executive Donald Tsang is expected to win when committee members cast their ballots in March.

For Leong and the democrats, this first-ever competitive election is a "crucial" step toward achieving their ultimate goal of universal suffrage. By sparking political debate they hope to generate interest in further opening up the political system.

"One thing that I would hope to be able to achieve with my participation in this election is to be able to consolidate the different forces in the civil society of Hong Kong so that we would give the democratic movement an impetus, a push," he said.

Under the one-country, two systems principle Hong Kong is governed separately from Beijing. Even though universal suffrage is enshrined in Hong Kong's Basic Law, Beijing has ruled out direct elections for chief executive this year and has refused to set out a timetable for it.

Political analyst, Ivan Choy, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong says Leong's candidacy is putting pressure on Mr. Tsang.

"Even it is pretty sure that Donald Tsang would win, he has to get the support from the public," he said. "I think one result that he would not want to see is that if he wins with a large margin in the election committee, but the margin is leveled down by the popularity polls. Some people would say 'you can only get your legitimacy from the small circle but not the public'."

Tsang, a career civil servant during the British colonial government, said he would push for a timetable for universal suffrage within the next chief executive's term. He is expected to formally declare his candidacy later this week.

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