09/11/2004, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA

Hong Kong elections: pro-democracy candidates lead opinion polls

Bishop Zen says pro-democracy forces and Beijing must reconcile.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Tomorrow Hong Kong voters will elect the 60 members of the territory's Legislative Council (LegCo). There are 162 candidates running, 90 candidates contesting 30 seats by direct election to represent geographic constituencies and 72 candidates vying for the other 30 seats in 28 functional constituencies.

These elections are considered by many a test in which voters will cast their lot either for the pro-democracy or the pro-Beijing party. They are taking place after the large scale July 1 rallies in which hundreds of thousands of residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the territory's government and China's interference in its internal affairs in violation of the principle "one nation, two systems".

In the last few weeks many community leaders and intellectuals have repeatedly criticised the functional constituencies as being "anti-democratic structures". Opinions have been voiced in favour of universal suffrage and the abolition of functional constituencies ahead of the 2008 elections.

Surveys show that the participation could reach a record high of 50-55 per cent which should favour pro-democracy candidates. Surveys also indicate that the pro-democracy camp is likely to get 22-27 seats since seats in the functional constituencies are expected to go to pro-Beijing candidates.

Hong Kong's conservatives are concerned that the territory's economic revival might be slowed down by a victory of pro-welfare spending pro-democracy candidates.

For its part, Beijing's is concerned that a pro-democracy victory might spill over into the Mainland. For this reason it has blocked any attempt to introduce democratic reforms to Hong Kong and has put press freedom under a tighter squeeze. It has also not refrained from scandal-mongering at the expense of pro-democracy candidates. Chinese officials have also engaged in illegal campaigning by urging Mainland residents to call their Hong Kong residents to tell them to vote for pro-Beijing candidates.

Speaking on Radio 45 yesterday, Mgr Joseph Zen, Catholic Archbishop of Hong Kong, said that irrespective of the election results, both the Beijing and pro-democracy camp should talk to one another and find ways to reconcile. "If the central government or the pro-democracy forces base their policy towards each other solely on the election results," Bishop Zen said, "they have not much wisdom. Everybody knows what should be done after the July 1 [mass rallies]. Reconciliation and communication are best for our country."

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