Hong Kong lawmaker will resign to trigger referendum on democracy

Pro-democracy lawmakers Lee Cheuk Yan (left) and Albert Ho (second, left) hold balloons tied with slogans reading "Release Liu Xiaobo" and Liu's portrait during a protest to urging for release the jailed Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo
Pro-democracy lawmakers Lee Cheuk Yan (left) and Albert Ho (second, left) hold balloons tied with slogans reading "Release Liu Xiaobo" and Liu's portrait during a protest to urging for release the jailed Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong on Dec 25, 2014. A veteran pro-democracy lawmaker pledged Friday to resign from Hong Kong's legislature, triggering a by-election to allow residents to "vent their anger" at Chinese authorities over proposals on how the city chooses its next leader. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - A veteran pro-democracy lawmaker pledged Friday to resign from Hong Kong's legislature, triggering a by-election to allow residents to "vent their anger" at Chinese authorities over proposals on how the city chooses its next leader.

The issue was at the heart of months of mass protests in the former British colony where pro-democracy protesters blocked off stretches of main roads to call for true universal suffrage.

Albert Ho's announcement that he would resign his seat in the city's Legislative Council is the latest show of defiance by Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers, who have vowed to veto any government proposal over how to choose a new leader in 2017.

Though Hong Kong will choose its chief executive through a one-person-one-vote system, the authorities have said candidates must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

Mr Ho's resignation from his "super seat", one of five in the legislature, will trigger a city-wide by-election in which five million people are eligible to vote.

"I think I should take every possible opportunity to enable the Hong Kong people to vent their anger, their frustrations, and protest against the central government," Ho told reporters, announcing his decision.

"I am in a position to do so by resigning from my seat so as to trigger off a territory-wide de-facto referendum," he said, adding that he was sure "the Hong Kong people would seize this opportunity to fully express their views." Ho said he would resign after pro-democracy lawmakers, who hold a critical legislative veto on constitutional amendments, vote down the political reform package.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the package in the early months of the summer.

"We will certainly vote down the package, and I have no doubt that it will happen," Mr Ho said.

The final framework needs to pass the city's mini-parliament with a two-thirds majority, but Hong Kong's pan-democrats are able to block its passage with their 27 total seats.

Government officials have themselves expressed pessimism over the package's successful passage.

"The political reform is now looking like mission impossible," the city's justice minister Rimsky Yuen told media early Friday, admitting there would be "difficulty" in securing the necessary votes.

China has pledged Hong Kong will be able to choose its own leader for the first time in 2017, but it has ruled that candidates will be screened by a loyalist committee - a proposal that democracy activists have branded as "fake democracy".

Hong Kong was handed from Britain back to China in 1997 and enjoys freedoms not seen on the mainland.