By Francis Wong
HONG KONG, JUNE 24, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Though some democracy advocates in Hong Kong maintain that any advance in negotiations with China is to be welcomed, debates now under way in the Legislative Council have divided the territory’s pro-democracy camp. The retired bishop of Hong Kong is among the wary.
The Hong Kong Legislative Council has adjourned until Friday, but it seems it will pass a compromise bringing 10 more seats into the council in 2012. All of these new seats will be chosen by a broader electorate, with half of them coming from the popular vote. This will still leave 30 of the 70 seats in 2012 to be chosen by “functional constituencies,” a small handful of generally pro-Beijing voters, who, moreover, often have more than one vote.
The Legislative Council already approved a move to expand in 2012 the committee that elects the chief executive.
Democracy advocates say members of the Democratic Party supporting these deals have abandoned their principles. They are energetically protesting the compromise, which falls well short of their goal of full democracy.
For the democratic alliance, non-governmental organizations, and church groups, the debate is not just an abstract discussion on inequality in political rights. Rather, it is the root cause that widens the rich-poor gap.
Good and bad
Martin Lee Chu-ming, founder of the Democratic Party, considered a father of democracy in Hong Kong, is among those who disapprove of the deal.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired bishop of Hong Kong, is also critical.
Both these leaders advocate the complete abolishment of the functional constituencies. Both of them successfully influenced the democratic alliance to reject the reform package proposed by the government in 2005.
While Martin Lee has said he is considering quitting the party he once led, Cardinal Zen on Monday lamented that the reform package lacks a road map to bring Hong Kong to full democracy.
The cardinal has cautioned that Beijing’s negotiations have served mostly to divide the democratic camp.
Moreover, Cardinal Zen noted that Beijing accepted the Democratic Party’s compromise only after it recognized that the government’s original proposal would fail to pass.
The prelate also questioned if Beijing’s acceptance of the plan was merely a “political deal,” while still showing disregard for the Hong Kong people.
Turning to God
The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and a number of Christian bodies organized a prayer meeting June 22 outside the Legislative Council building.
Protests continued there, as the atmosphere in Hong Kong shows continued distrust of Beijing and fear for the chances of universal suffrage.
Independent opinion surveys conducted by local universities show only 35% of respondents believe Beijing will keep its promise to allow Hong Kong to have universal suffrage in 2017/2020. A poll released June 14 showed that more than half, 54%, do not believe in Beijing’s promises.
In such a context, Christians are being encouraged to take a role in promoting dialogue.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor specialized in Constitutional Law at the University of Hong Kong, said at a June 21 forum that church communities should promote dialogue among political groups. And when non-governmental organizations were working to construct a democratic culture, he said, Christians should take up a role as mediator.
The Christian scholar cautioned that an electoral system without the backing of a democratic culture might divide society into parts, as has happened in Asian countries such as Taiwan and Thailand.
He also observed that Hong Kong’s Democratic Party “is the only opposition party in China that Beijing is willing to negotiate with.”
“So the dialogue between the Democratic Party and Beijing is a good precedent,” the professor contended. “It may benefit the political reform in China.”
Baptist pastor Chu Yiu-ming, who had worked with Democratic Party leadership on various issues, said at the same forum that pastors should be the companions to people who work for the poor and fight for democracy.
He voiced his trust for all those working for democracy, “no matter what their stance is.”
“I understand the difficulties they’ve encountered during the last 25 years. How can I be harsh to them [for their political choices]?” Chu said. “Those who vote for the proposal are not to betray democracy. I understand that every minor achievement is difficult to gain.”