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12/2/03 - HONG KONG ELECTIONS - 2003-12-03

Pro-democracy parties made significant gains in November in local elections for seats on Hong Kong’s eighteen district councils. The councils advise Hong Kong’s government on issues such as neighborhood improvements and services. The election results are a clear indication of the desire by Hong Kong’s people to exercise more control over their own affairs.

The district councils are the building blocks of Hong Kong’s political system. Under Hong Kong’s constitution, or Basic Law, the city of about seven-million people is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy. The chief executive is chosen by an eight-hundred-member selection committee, drawn from political, business, academic, and other sources, including Hong Kong’s sixty-member Legislative Council. Only twenty-four of the Legislative Council members are directly elected, but this will rise to thirty with next September’s elections.

Pro-democracy parties, and a number of other groups in Hong Kong, have called for the direct election of all members of the Legislative Council. They are also pushing for direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive by 2007.

Proponents of responsive government and the rule of law got a boost several months ago when Hong Kong authorities decided to delay indefinitely their efforts to enact national security legislation. The decision came after about a half million people rallied on July 1st. The demonstrators protested that the legislation would threaten fundamental rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech, assembly, association, and religion.

In a speech last month to the National Endowment for Democracy, President George W. Bush pointed out that there are “essential principles common to every successful society”:

“Successful societies limit the power of the state and the power of the military -- so that governments respond to the will of the people, and not the will of the elite.”

One of the goals of Hong Kong’s Basic Law is movement toward a democratically elected government. That is the best way to ensure the continued success of Hong Kong and the protection of its people’s fundamental freedoms.