Thu, Nov 09, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Activists call HK election panel a joke

BY THE BOOK Politicians trying to lead Hong Kong toward universal suffrage hope to gain access to an undemocratic institution to reach their goal

AFP , HONG KONG

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have begun campaigning for seats on a controversial panel that will select the city's next leader -- with the hope that they can eventually force the body into extinction.

Nominations closed yesterday for candidates who want to contest for one of 800 seats on the so-called Election Committee, which will meet in March to choose the chief executive.

Democracy activists, who have long called for the scrapping of the panel in favor of electing officials by universal suffrage, say it is important that they have a voice on it.

"It seems paradoxical ... but one has to appreciate that the pro-democracy movement has only peaceful, legal means to achieve its goals," said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a professor of political science at Hong Kong City University and a strategist for the pro-democracy movement.

Under the terms of the handover, China's Communist Party leadership and Britain agreed to allow Hong Kong to run its own political affairs for at least 50 years. It left, however, an Election Committee that is dominated by pro-Beijing conservatives.

Its members are selected by the social and industrial groupings that make up the 28 so-called "functional constituencies" that return legislators to the Legislative Council.

Committee seats are unequally distributed among the different sectors. Conservative industries such as agriculture and fisheries, as well as rural concern groups, have an inordinately large number of delegates.

Also, few of the sectors select their candidates on anything like a democratic basis, with many acting as "rotten boroughs," choosing their delegates from the ranks of the most powerful organizations within them.

The only liberal groupings are the social services and the labor sectors, which are represented by just 80 of the total delegates.

Adding to the conservative complexion are 96 seats that are reserved for government bodies, including 36 drawn from China's National People's Congress.

Another 114 are apportioned to pro-China special interest groups, including Chinese medicine practitioners, the employers' federation, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC), a branch of the Chinese government.

With an electorate weighted so much in Beijing's favor, it is China's patronage rather than policy pledges that sways voter intentions on the panel.

In the three selection processes so far held since 1997, the candidate backed by Beijing has won easily.

Skewing the balance further in the pro-Beijing camp's favor is the requirement that candidates win the nomination of at least 100 Election Committee members before going to the election proper.

"It means that anyone who voted against China's choice would be easily identified," Cheng said.

"And because nobody wants to be seen voting against China, nobody does," he added.

"It makes a laughing stock of Hong Kong," said pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau (劉慧卿), who has refused to put herself forward as a panel candidate.

"It is against everything I stand for -- an undemocratic small circle election in which ordinary people play no part," Lau added.

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