Bishop Zen supports referendum for full democracy

The Hong Kong bishop says "open-minded" Beijing leaders could agree.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) - Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said he would back a city-wide survey to seek public opinion on universal suffrage, saying liberal-minded state leaders cared about the public's aspirations.

Before departing for Rome to attend the International Congress of  the Vatican's Justice and Peace Pontifical Council, Bishop Zen said Hong Kong should trust Beijing, and an authoritative survey would not affect relations.

"People say they are not sure whether Hong Kong wants universal suffrage by 2007. There will be a reason for Beijing to reconsider its decision if the survey finds the majority of the public wants universal suffrage by 2007," Bishop Zen said.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in April ruled out the introduction of universal suffrage by 2007, despite strong public demand.

Pro-democracy politicians proposed a referendum, which was swiftly dismissed by both the central and Hong Kong governments. Officials said it amounted to a challenge to Beijing's authority and would be a waste of time.

The bishop said he understood that the word "referendum", used by the democrats, would strike a raw nerve in Beijing. He said it should not be used to avoid misunderstanding.  The survey proposed by the bishop would have no legally binding effects. "Some people said this proposal is not realistic. I think we should have faith in our state leaders because they are liberal-minded. They will consider the wishes of the public because they value the people," Bishop Zen said. "We are not opposing the central government. We are all working for the good of Hong Kong".

Bishop Zen - a long-time champion of democracy - said he still considered 2007 the best date to introduce universal suffrage.