Election FeverApril 25, 2012
On the last Sunday in March, Hong Kong passed another political milestone. Mr. Leung Chun-Ying, popularly known as ‘C.Y.’, was elected as the next leader of this Special Administrative Region of China. His title will be Chief Executive, similar to mayor in other cities, and he takes office on July 1, 2012.
The selection of Hong Kong’s top government leader was a fascinating process this time around. Why? Because there were two candidates with a real chance to win. And the one who was initially thought to be the front runner – Mr. Henry Tang – ended up losing due to various exposés about his personal life and a weak performance in public debates.
To put this in perspective, let me share a bit of background. After 1997, Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and was returned to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China. Under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, the head of the HK government would be selected or ‘elected’ by 1200 persons representing different sectors of society. The religious sectors were given 60 votes – 10 each to the Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists, Muslims, Catholic Church, and Protestant Christians. This system, dubbed ‘small circle’ by opponents, will change with the next Chief Executive election in 2017, when Hong Kong has been promised that there will be universal suffrage (i.e. one person, one vote).
As an outsider, I took particular interest in watching the dynamics of this race. To me, there were many similarities to American-style elections with mudslinging and character assassinations, frantic lobbying for votes, and relentless media coverage. A daring example of press activity was the media’s renting construction cranes to look over the wall in front of a candidate’s luxury home to expose illegal building works. Yet what impressed me most in this fierce political battle was the keen influence of the community and public opinion. Hong Kong people want a voice in determining their future, and they demand that whoever is the leader must deal with the pressing problems of the economy, housing, health care, environment and education.
So where is the Church in all this? As I mentioned, religious sectors were given 60 seats in the Election Committee to be determined through the Colloquium of Six Religious Leaders. Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) is a member of Colloquium on behalf of the Protestant Churches. Thus, HKCC was given the mandate of choosing 10 Christian electors by whatever means it deemed appropriate. In typical Protestant fashion, there were deep divisions over the best way to go about it. Some said the Council should protest the ‘small circle’ election by refusing to participate at all. Others suggested asking the large church denominations to each choose one representative. In the end, the Council decided to hold its own mini-election among Christians and let the 10 candidates with the most votes serve as the Protestant electors for the Chief Executive election. Controversy erupted at every corner, but by the grace of God, the Christian election was held on October 20, 2011 with 42 candidates, 183 polling stations, and over 18,000 ballots cast. While the number of voters was only a small percentage of the estimated 400,000 Protestant Christians in Hong Kong, HKCC felt it was an important exercise to promote civic awareness and political participation among the churches.
That said it was difficult for me personally to have Hong Kong Christian Council harshly criticized by social activists and even by other Christian groups who disagreed with our stand. Among those opposing us were some of my friends who used ingenious methods to protest through the press, at our meetings and even in front of our building on the Christian election day. It was painful but as HKCC General Secretary Rev. Po Kam-cheong said, “The battles in the election were part of the democratic process. The struggles and the accommodation of different voices are all required to build democracy in society.” I pray that Hong Kong Christians from all sides continue to be a wise and prophetic presence and to embrace the freedoms we are given in Hong Kong and under God.
In the peace of Christ,
Judy Chan is a missionary serving with the Hong Kong Christian Council. She is responsible for communications for the Council. She is also in charge of ecumenical radio broadcasting ministry, English publications and ecumenical partnerships in Hong Kong and overseas.
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