In a widely expected decision, China's Communist Party-controlled parliament, the National People's Congress, on Monday ruled that universal suffrage would not be used to elect Hong Kong's chief executive in 2007 or the territory's legislature a year later.

  

"Conditions do not satisfy the general election of the Chief Executive after nomination of a nomination committee with broad representation through democratic procedures," said the ruling.

  

The NPC's powerful standing committee had earlier this month stunned democracy activists in Hong Kong by ruling that any electoral reforms had to be approved by Beijing.

 

Breach

  

Analysts said the ruling breached the "one country, two systems" formula used to govern Hong Kong since the 1997 handover from Britain, and reflected Beijing's nervousness over increasing demands for democracy in the territory.

  

Hong Kong's chief executive is currently chosen by an 800-member election committee handpicked by Beijing, and oversees a legislature in which only 30 of the 60 members are directly elected.

  

The latest ruling would likely push back any hope for universal suffrage in Hong Kong until the five-year term of the chief executive chosen in 2007 runs its full course by 2012, Hong Kong officials in Beijing said.

 

"The general public need to be rational and calm in response to China's decision"

Tung Chee-hwa,
chief executive, Hong Kong

Sensing that the ruling would anger local democrats, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa immediately urged the public to be "rational and calm".

  

"The general public need to be rational and calm in response to China's decision," Tung told reporters after news of China's decision.

  

Tung said he understood the decision worried some people in Hong Kong, which has seen a series of large-scale protests involving hundreds of thousands of people demanding democracy since last July.

  

However, he believed the decision was "beneficial" to the general public for "enhancing the city's stability and prosperity" in the long term.

  

"Our wish to is attain democracy in a gradual process," Tung added.

  

Monday's ruling said the promise of eventual universal suffrage, which is laid out in Hong Kong's mini-constitution, would be realised at an unspecified time in the future.