Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Hong Kong lawmakers quit in push for democracy

Five Hong Kong legislators, from left, Albert Chan, Alan Leong, Tanya Chan, Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man hold their resignation letters
The five lawmakers are making a stand for democracy

Five pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong have resigned their seats in a bid to pressure Beijing for full democracy.

The group says the resulting by-election will serve as a referendum on universal suffrage in the territory.

Democrats want full direct elections by 2012 - several years ahead of the timetable set by China's government.

Currently, only half of Hong Kong's legislators are directly elected; the rest are chosen by special interest groups, most of whom are pro-Beijing.

De-facto referendum?

The five lawmakers handed their resignation letters to members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Tuesday morning.

Pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong - 18 November 2009
Pro-democracy activists want a universal vote introduced

Alan Leong and Tanya Chan from the Civic Party, and Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Chan and Raymond Wong from the League of Social Democrats, said their actions would force by-elections that were a "de facto referendum" on democracy.

"My resignation is in keeping with my campaign promise. I want to fight for direct elections," the Associated Press quoted Mr Leong as saying.

But some pro-Beijing lawmakers have already said they will boycott the by-elections, making it harder for the polls to be seen as a legitimate vote on the importance of democracy.

Analysts say the resignation plan highlights the deep divide in Hong Kong politics.

Under British rule for more than 150 years, the territory was returned to China in 1997 under a special agreement that promised to retain Western-style practices.

The Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, stipulates that the legislative council should eventually be elected by universal suffrage - but this will only happen by 2020 at the earliest.

While some people in Hong Kong are keen for complete democracy as soon as possible, many believe that other factors are more important.

Recent opinion polls show tepid public support for actions by pro-democracy groups.

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