The re-election last week of Donald Tsang as Hong Kong’s chief executive was not a surprise, given Beijing’s control over the vote. What has turned out to be surprising is how Tsang was officially challenged for his job by a pro-democracy candidate with no backing from the mainland who managed to get 123 of 796 votes. Such a challenge should send an important signal to Tsang and to Beijing: Ten years after the British handed over the islands to the Chinese it is time to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s constitution calls for the “ultimate aim” of one person one vote in elections for the chief executive and the local legislature. The document, the Basic Law, also holds that open voting should be achieved in a “gradual and orderly” fashion. To Chinese authorities, ultimate and gradual seem to have become excuses to keep pushing universal suffrage to the horizon. The poll offered some signs of hope. Even though he was a sure thing Tsang participated in two debates with Alan Leong, his opponent.

Hong Kong stands as a very public model of whether China can make good on its promise to the world 10 years ago of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong still has the feel of a free society compared with China. But it will not be a separate system unless residents gain their right to vote.