04/02/2008, 00.00
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Martin Lee, Hong Kong's "father of democracy", resigns

As he approaches the age of 70, Martin Lee Chu-ming announces his withdrawal from political life. The founder of the Democratic Party, and banned from China for his support of the Tiananmen Square movement, Lee asks his fellow party members to continue their struggle for a good political system. Without this, nothing but harm will result.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The decision to leave political life, announced last week by the founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee Chu-ming, a catholic, creates a void in the ranks of the proponents of democracy, and brings into doubt the influence of the Democrats in the upcoming elections for the legislative council, scheduled for September.  This is the opinion of a great number of democratic politicians and activists in Hong Kong, who are remembering the tireless commitment and the great charisma of the "father of democracy".

Margaret Nh Ngoi-yee, a Democratic deputy, writes: "There is no one like Martin Lee.  There is no one to follow him, and although the struggle for democracy will continue, it will not be the same.  His main intuition, that of bringing the question of Hong Kong before the international community, made his contribution to our cause priceless.  Now more than ever, the territory needs a defender".

The same opinion has been expressed by Sin Chung-kai, the vice president of the party, who laments "the grave loss" suffered by the territory politically, and says that he is "convinced" of the constant support, although from a more withdrawn position, "of the best-known fighter for freedom".

Nevertheless, an anonymous editorialist for the South China Morning Post expresses doubts over the efficacy of Lee's political struggle, calling him a man "weighed down by a past that must now compromise us no longer".  Speaking of relations with Beijing, the journalist writes: "Today we need new seeds of democracy, capable of interacting without the old rancor and prejudice.  No matter how many results [Lee] may have obtained, we need young people able to carry the torch of democracy by building new bridges with Beijing".

From an international point of view, Stephen Bradley - the English consul general - describes Lee as "a towering figure in Chinese politics", while Li Gang - vice president of the Chinese representative office in Hong Kong - says he "[does] not consider his resignation significant".  These reactions demonstrate the difference in relationships established by Martin Lee over the years with the Western powers and with the mainland.

After completing studies in England and America, Martin Lee returned to Hong Kong, where he dedicated himself to the legal profession.  Appointed Queen's Counsel in 1979, he became chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association in 1980.  In 1985, he became part of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, which oversees the brief constitution for the territory drafted by common agreement between London and Beijing before the return of the former colony to China.  In 1989, he led a million people in street protests against the repression of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, and was banned from China, which had viewed him favorably before.

Among his best-known battles are his endless petitions for universal suffrage in the territory, and his constant criticism over the lack of democracy in continental China.  For writing in the pages of The Washington Post to ask Beijing for greater respect of human rights in view of the Olympics, he was considered "a traitor" even by some of his fellow party members, who have asked for a public demonstration of patriotism.

A member of the legislative committee without interruption for 23 years, he announced his resignation as he approaches the age of 70.  Speaking to his fellow party members, he said: "I am convinced of what Deng Xiaoping used to say: in a bad system, even good people do harm.  We need a good system, and I will continue to struggle for this until my bones have turned to dust".

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