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Pro-Beijing Hong Kong parties announce merger.

HONG KONG, Feb. 16 Kyodo

Two major pro-Beijing political parties in Hong Kong announced a merger Wednesday.

Some critics say Beijing is behind the political marriage between the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance as it wants to create a counter force to the city's growing demand for democracy and political reforms.

Both parties oppose introducing universal suffrage as early as in 2007 for the next-term of the city's chief executive and 2008 for the Legislative Council, although such desire is rife among the public.

The new party will be called the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology political scientist Ma Ngok said, ''The new party will not pose any imminent threat to the pro-democracy camp as they need time to reach consensus on different issues among themselves.''

''For such a major move between two political parties, it won't happen without the involvement of the China Liaison Office,'' he added. The China Liaison Office in Hong Kong is a regional representative body of Beijing.

Nevertheless, the new party will not see any gain in their representation in the 60-member Legislative Council, the city's lawmaking body, as the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance failed to win any seat in the election last September.

Currently, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong holds the most seats in the Legislative Council, followed by the pro-business Liberal Party and the Democratic Party.

But the pro-democracy camp, which includes the Democratic Party and other independent members, forms the largest bloc in the council.

Downplaying their role as the government rubber stamp, Ma Lik, chairman of the Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said, ''Our role is to monitor the government. If the government is right, we will support it. If not, we will raise our objection.''

The chairman, vice chairmen and other office bearers of the merged party will be elected in May. The party is expected to be officially established after new officials take office in June.

Beijing has tried to stifle political demands in the territory by a reinterpretation of the Basic Law -- Hong Kong's mini-Constitution that guaranteed the former British colony would retain its own political, financial and legal systems after reunifying with China on July 1, 1997.

With the reinterpretation in last April, it ruled out universal suffrage for the chief executive in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was handpicked by Beijing and elected by an 800-member election committee that is dominated by conservative politicians and businessmen. His current five-year term will expire in 2007.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Feb 22, 2005
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