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2/24/04 - DIRECT ELECTIONS FOR HONG KONG - 2004-02-23

In large, peaceful rallies, Hong Kong citizens have shown their support for democracy. Tens of thousands marched on January 1st to urge that Hong Kong’s chief executive and all of its legislature be directly elected by the people of Hong Kong. But in recent days, Chinese officials have said that decisions about direct elections should be made in Beijing. Some Chinese officials have even suggested that proponents of direct elections may be “unpatriotic.” Democracy proponent Martin Lee, a Hong Kong legislator, has called such allegations “extremely worrying.”

Under its Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy. Currently, the chief executive is chosen by an eight-hundred-member committee. Only half of the members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council are now directly elected. The other half are chosen by business, professional, civic, and political groups.

According to Article Sixty-Eight of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the ultimate goal is the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage. Democracy proponents argue that this should apply to the chief executive as well.

The U.S., says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, strongly supports “democracy through electoral reform and universal suffrage in Hong Kong”:

“We believe these will advance economic and social development and are essential to Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability within the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

Now is the time, says Mr. Boucher, for “extensive consultations in Hong Kong so that the Hong Kong people get the chance to design the system that’s appropriate for them.”