Wed, Dec 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Dashed referendum hopes hurt pro-democracy camp

DOWNTURN The pro-democracy movement was left in disarray after lawmakers voted down a proposal on a poll to gauge whether Hong Kongers want democracy


Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement was in chaos yesterday after hopes of a referendum on full elections were dashed by lawmakers and as a bruising leadership race brewed within the main democratic party.

News that the Vatican had given its influential backing to the referendum campaign was also greeted with mixed blessings as one outspoken democrat declared the papacy should "mind its own business."

Pro-democracy lawmakers in the part-elected legislature have long called for political reforms to allow the former British colony to elect its top leaders by 2007, when Beijing-anointed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) must stand down. But splits in the coalition were evident Monday night when the 60-seat chamber voted down a proposal to hold a city-wide poll to gauge whether the public wanted such reforms.

Although the pro-government majority, which backs closer ties with the city's rulers in Beijing, predictably voted down the bill, they found unexpected support from democrat Mandy Tam (譚耀宗), who abstained from the vote.

Smarting from the defeat, referendum advocates told local media that they would go ahead with an unofficial plebiscite instead.

China opposes more democracy Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous enclave since 1997, fearing the political upheaval would cause economic and social unrest and could spark calls for reform on the Communist Party-controlled mainland.

In April Beijing's top parliamentary body sought to stymie calls for reform with a ruling that the territory's Basic Law mini-constitution did not provide for such a move.

The referendum vote came as members of the Democratic Party, the movement's once-mighty flagship organization, faced a leadership battle. Chairman Yeung Sum (楊森), who succeeded party founder and globally recognized democracy campaigner Martin Lee (李柱銘), announced last week he would stand down following the party's dismal showing in the September elections.

Deputy chairman Lee Wing-tat (李永達) had been expected to run unopposed to succeed Yeung but over the weekend veteran co-founder Chan King-ming threw his hat into the ring for a Dec. 12 run-off, potentially opening a rift in the party.

With the leadership in disarray even the prospect of divine intervention couldn't cheer supporters.A report in yesterday's South China Morning Post that the Vatican had backed the local Catholic church's involvement in the democracy fight met with anger from Mandy Tam.

"Why do these foreigners have to have a say in our affairs?" she fumed. "The democracy movement belongs to us. The Vatican should mind its own business, it is just interfering. This is counterproductive."

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