01/18/2010, 00.00
HONG KONG – CHINA
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Card Zen calls for referendum to decide Hong Kong’s democracy

by Annie Lam
Pro-democracy parties want to use by-elections in five Hong Kong constituencies to show how much Hong Kongers want universal suffrage. Surveys indicated that at least 60 per cent of residents want full-fledged democracy. A few days ago, mainland China issued a statement claiming that the referendum is against the territory’s constitution and that such a step cannot be taken.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Card Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, called on the territory’s Christians to vote for the referendum on universal suffrage two days after the Chinese government said that “Hong Kong had no authority to launch a referendum.”            In fact, it is not a referendum in the proper sense of the term, but rather five by-elections that will have to be called to replace five members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) who plan to resign in late January in protest against the government’s slow pace at implementing full democracy for the Special Administrative Region.        Five candidates from pro-democracy parties will run in the five ridings, and voting for them will be viewed like a referendum in favour of democracy and universal suffrage.

At a forum on constitutional reform organised by Catholic and Protestant groups, Cardinal Zen urged all citizens including Christians to support the de facto referendum as a way to push forward Hong Kong's democracy movement.

"I’m angry at the local government’s political reform proposal which offers neither progress nor any direction. It gives people no choice, but have to accept it,” Cardinal Zen said.

Under current rules, only half of all LegCo members are chosen by direct election; the other half is made up of members elected in functional constituencies.

For several years, pro-democracy parties and the population have been pushing for the direct election of all lawmakers, but mainland China has blocked the change, postponing it perhaps until 2017.

In the past weeks, pro-democracy parties have also called for the abolition of functional constituencies as unfair because they allow some voters to cast their ballot twice, first in direct election and then in functional constituencies. The government has however rejected the demand.

LegCo member and referendum promoter Wong Yuk-man spoke at the forum. He said that he would resign from the legislature in late January and would view the ensuing by-election as referendum on universal suffrage. “No change, no gain in democracy,” said Wong, who is Protestant.

Dr Kung Lap-yan, acting director of Hong Kong Christian Institute, stressed the importance of participation for Christians. For him, Christians must not demonise those they do not like because everyone is made in God’s image. He told forum participants that democracy and prosperity go hand in hand, and urged Christians to be politically active and monitor the parties and politicians.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, an agency of China’s State Council that manages ties between the mainland and the two special administrative regions, issued a statement on the matter, saying that the idea of referendum in Hong Kong is “fundamentally against the Basic Law” agreed by China and the United Kingdom before the former British colony was returned to China.

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