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Veteran H.K. democrat Martin Lee not to run for legislator seat.

HONG KONG, March 28 Kyodo

The founder and former chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, 69-year-old Martin Lee, said Friday he is too old to run for a legislator seat in the September election but will remain active in fighting for full democracy in Hong Kong.

''I will be out of the Legislative Council, there is no doubt about it,'' Lee told reporters. ''But that doesn't mean that I will be walking out of the democratic movement.''

''It's not going to be easy to try to get democracy from Beijing. My intention is to continue pushing for democracy for Hong Kong until we have democracy, I mean genuine democracy according to international standard,'' he said.

Lee, a political icon and popular legislator for the past 23 years, said his biggest regret is that genuine democracy has yet to come to Hong Kong and some local pro-democracy advocates are not allowed to cross over to mainland China.

''China's leaders are smart. Now that they are talking about democracy within (the Communist) Party, I hope soon they will talk about democracy for all, give the 1.3 billion Chinese people the right to vote for their leaders,'' he said.

Lee, who will turn 70-year-old in June, said this is the time to cease running for a Legislative Council seat and give way to a new generation democrats.

He expressed confidence that full democracy will eventually come to Hong Kong. Until then, he stressed, public participation is the key.

''Taiwan has universal suffrage but not Hong Kong or Macao. Half of Hong Kong's 60 legislators are returned by popular vote, and if Hong Kong voters do not come out and vote, the Chinese people in the mainland will not forgive us,'' Lee said.

The Basic Law, the mini-constitution in effect in Hong Kong since the British handover of sovereignty to China in 1997, states that universal suffrage for both elections is the ''ultimate aim.''

Currently, only 800 people among the territory's 3.3 million registered voters are eligible to pick the chief executive. Half of the 60 legislators are returned by popular vote while the rest are chosen by 28 professional and business sectors grouped as functional constituencies.

Pro-democracy advocates have been calling for full democracy, namely introduction of universal suffrage for elections of the chief executive and all 60 legislators. But the government has been reluctant to move forward without Beijing's blessing.

In December last year, the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress ruled out universal suffrage for the 2012 elections of the chief executive election and the legislature. In 2004, it made the same decision regarding the respective elections in 2007 and 2008.

The Standing Committee decided Hong Kong could have universal suffrage for the leadership election as early as in 2017 and for the legislative election in 2020, but without saying it would definitely happen.

Lee said he is worried that Hong Kong's politics are becoming ''Singaporized.''

''Singapore has fake democratic elections in which the ruling People's Action Party always won. If Hong Kong is to continue walking that path, we are doomed,'' he said.

Lee founded the Democratic Party in 1994 and stepped down as chairman in 2002. He served from 1985 to 1989 as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, the body appointed by Beijing to draft Hong Kong's post-1997 constitution, until his expulsion following the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, according to information on his website.

The veteran democrat's article in the Wall Street Journal last October, titled ''China's Olympic Opportunity,'' drew harsh criticism from the pro-Beijing camp, which accused him of canvassing for international pressure on Beijing to improve human rights and the rule of law.

His activities have included leading democrats to testify before the U.S. Congress on Hong Kong's democracy development.

Lee's opponents have smeared him for his activities, with some of them calling him ''traitor.''
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Mar 31, 2008
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