Martin Lee to stand down from Legco
Albert Wong, Eva Wu and Fanny W. Y. Fung
Best-known Democrat to quit
The spearhead of Hong Kong's democracy movement for the past two decades, Martin Lee Chu-ming, will step down from the Legislative Council when his term ends in July.
Mr Lee, a Hong Kong Island lawmaker, told a news conference last night he would not seek another term. He gave as reasons his age - he is 69 - and a desire to see fresh faces on the political scene.
'No one is indispensable,' the founding member of the Democratic Party said.
He would continue working for democracy and contribute to debate on political development after July.
Mr Lee said he had been considering for a few months whether to run again and had told party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan of his decision while the two were observing Taiwan's presidential election last weekend. Mr Ho said his party respected the decision.
'There must be a time for Martin to quit the election and it is reasonable [to do so] this year. The party must face the reality of making way for new blood.'
Arch-rival Tsang Yok-sing, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - who has himself flirted with stepping down in the past - said: 'I envy him.'
Mr Lee's announcement is likely to set off another round of musical chairs among leading politicians keen to win a Legco seat on Hong Kong Island.
Pan-democrats, in particular, face a tough battle to maximise their votes, with a potential seven candidates from the camp.
Kam Nai-wai, who is expected to lead a Democratic Party ticket, said Mr Lee's departure would not necessarily increase his own chances of securing a seat, since the veteran democrat's personal popularity might not rub off on him.
The Civic Party's Tanya Chan Suk-chong, who is widely tipped to run for a Hong Kong Island seat, said she was very surprised to hear Mr Lee's decision. She refused to speculate whether it would benefit her party in terms of votes.
Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said Mr Lee had informed her of his decision. 'I know he has considered the matter for a long time and I respect his decision.'
Mr Lee began his political career in 1985 as a lawmaker for the legal constituency. From then until 1989 he was a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, but quit the body following the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989.
He was chairman of the Democratic Party from 1994 to 2002.
Of his withdrawal from Legco, he said: 'Once you reach the age of 70, you cross a certain threshold.'
He said his biggest regret throughout his career had been that he 'could not realise the democracy dream'.
Another was that he had only been able to visit the mainland once since 1989, when he joined a delegation of all 60 legislators on a 2005 visit to Guangdong led by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
'I hope the Communist Party will consider this: the territory and the people have returned to the mainland, but people's hearts have yet to return,' he said.
Among those paying tribute last night, British Consul General Stephen Bradley said Mr Lee was 'a towering figure' in Hong Kong politics and had served his constituents with great dedication and courage.