Beijing's favorite wins easy victory in leadership election
Monday, March 26, 2007
HONG KONG -- Beijing's favored candidate was selected for another term as Hong Kong's leader, spawning calls for universal suffrage after the former British colony's first contested leadership race since its return to Chinese rule.
Veteran civil servant Donald Tsang beat pro-democracy lawmaker Alan Leong 649-123 in the vote by an election committee loaded with tycoons and other elites, which has always picked the candidate with Beijing's blessing.
Tsang promised during the campaign to produce a timetable for full democracy in Hong Kong, which has functioned as a semiautonomous Chinese territory since its British colonial era ended in 1997. It was the first time a post-handover leader has made such a specific pledge to deliver democratic reforms.
"I laid out a solid foundation for moving toward universal suffrage," Tsang said in his victory speech.
Tsang declined to say whether he thought Hong Kong will have full democracy before the next leadership election in 2012.
As the results were announced, Tsang's backers yelled his name while pro-democracy supporters chanted, "Universal suffrage, universal suffrage!"
Lawmakers were allowed to vote in the election, but some pro-democracy legislators decided to protest the event.
Radical pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, nicknamed "Long Hair" for his hippy looks, showed up at the voting venue wearing a pig mask and a gold Chinese emperor's jacket over a body suit covered with a skeleton pattern.
"Shame, shame! I condemn Donald Tsang and the Chinese government. Down with the small-circle election," said Leung, who also briefly interrupted the results announcement by yelling slogans.
Leong acknowledged early in the race that he would likely lose, and dismissed the election as he went to cast his ballot.
"This is of course a rigged small-circle election," he told reporters.
But Leong also noted it was a historic event because the pro-democracy camp was able to get a candidate on the ballot for the first time since the handover. The race also involved the city's first televised election debates, which many thought Leong won.
After the vote, Leong said the election caused a fundamental change in Hong Kong's political culture, and he also said it raised the public's expectations.
"Hong Kong people were ready for democracy yesterday," he said as he vowed to push for universal suffrage in 2012.
One of Hong Kong's richest men, Richard Li, also called for full democracy as he arrived to cast his ballot. "I hope in five years, the next election, I can vote with the public," said Li, whose father, Li Ka-shing, is the city's wealthiest tycoon.
Hong Kong's mini-constitution, or Basic Law, says the city should eventually be fully democratic. China's Communist leaders have said Hong Kong is not ready for full democracy, and they have declined to say when the time would be right.
Beijing has yet to explicitly endorse Tsang's plan to craft a blueprint for full democracy during his new term. But political scientist Michael DeGolyer said he believed China's leadership backed the plan.
DeGolyer, a professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Beijing doesn't want democracy endlessly debated in Hong Kong. The constant argument and agitation could become a new mantra for demands on mainland China, he said.
"The best way to control it is to solve the issue and just get it off the table," he said.
Hong Kong society will quiet down once the public knows what the deadline is and what steps are being taken toward it, he said. But universal suffrage might not come until 2017, he added.
Ma Ngok, a political analyst at Hong Kong's Chinese University, dismissed Tsang's pledge as being "campaign talk."
He said, "There's a big gap between Beijing and the majority of Hong Kong people as to when Hong Kong can achieve full democracy. I don't think Beijing has the sense of urgency to decide on that."