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Hong Kong Election Nudges City Along Road to Democracy


Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, has won re-election. The election result was pre-ordained by the Chinese government in Beijing, but participants say the campaign might have pushed the former British colony somewhat closer to true democracy. VOA's Barry Kalb reports from Hong Kong.

Donald Tsang did not do what candidates usually do on election day, posing for the cameras with a ballot in his hand. Although he is chief executive of this Chinese territory - the equivalent of mayor or governor - he is not allowed to vote.

Only 800 of Hong Kong's nearly seven million people - mainly people selected by or approved by Beijing - were eligible to vote Sunday, and Tsang, who was re-elected by a vote of 649 to 123, was not one of them.

The mini-constitution that was drawn up before Hong Kong was handed back to China 10 years ago promises direct election of the chief executive and the legislature, but it does not say when that will come about. Pro-democracy groups have demanded that Beijing set a timetable, and that issue dominated the election campaign.

Alan Leong, a lawyer and elected legislator, was chosen by the pro-democracy group to run against Tsang and raise the issues that might otherwise have been ignored in a pre-ordained election.

As expected, Leong said in his post-election speech Sunday that the campaign demonstrated the public's desire for direct elections.

"There is no turning back from here," Leong says. "The Hong Kong people's determination to achieve universal suffrage in 2012 remains as strong as ever."

What was somewhat surprising is that Donald Tsang, who is in the job with Beijing's blessing, agreed with Leong.

One of the Chinese leadership's conditions for allowing direct voting here is that the people of Hong Kong show they are mature enough for democracy. Tsang, like Leong, pointedly used the word "maturity" in saying that they are.

"The maturity of the Hong Kong people (has been) demonstrated throughout the electoral process," Tsang says. "This has made this election very special, and has laid out a solid foundation for moving towards universal suffrage."

Tsang promised during the campaign to publish a paper by mid-year on a specific timetable and roadmap to voting reform, something the democrats have been demanding for years.

Michael DeGolyer is a professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and was one of the 800 electors. He says that although the election itself was decided in advance, the campaign helped forced Tsang's hand on the timetable.

"He has come out and pledged, not once but many times now over the last week or so, that he is determined to solve the 'how' and the 'when' of achieving the full universal suffrage elections promised in the Basic Law before he leaves office in 2012," DeGolyer says.

Tsang says he will strive to turn his election pledges into reality. But as everyone here knows, Hong Kong's democratic future is ultimately for Beijing to decide.

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