Hong Kong race inches toward democracy

Published March 25, 2007

HONG KONG - Many see the selection of Hong Kong's leader as a farce - the incumbent will almost certainly be picked again today by a committee that usually goes with the choice of China's rulers.

But for the first time since the former British colony returned to Beijing's rule, the election has had a challenger and American-style debates. It also saw the incumbent - veteran civil servant Donald Tsang - promise a specific plan to bring full democracy to China's wealthiest city.

Tsang is expected to coast to re-election by an 800-seat election committee loaded with tycoons, leaders of special interest groups and other elites.

His rival is Alan Leong, a lawmaker and lawyer who believes stable, well-educated Hong Kong is ready for full democracy.

He says Tsang is among those dragging their feet on political reform. Leong insists that when the next leadership vote is held in 2012, Hong Kong should get rid of what's commonly known as the "small-circle election" system and let the public directly elect the winner.

The race also featured the first public debates between leadership candidates. The two men met twice in spirited, televised events.