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Catholics somewhat indifferent to Hong Kong's elections

Political antipathy blamed for low turn out for church-run seminars and forums on Legislative Council elections
Catholics somewhat indifferent to Hong Kong's elections

Election flyers for the political party Demosisto being handed out in the Sai Wan Shan district of Hong Kong ahead of the legislative council elections. (Photo by AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong
September 2, 2016
Catholics who attended church-run seminars and forums focused on Hong Kong's Sept. 4 elections said they benefited from the events but were surprised by their lower than expected attendance.

The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong (JPC) hosted five seminars and four forums related to the 6th Legislative Council (LegCo) Election. Each of the forums had less than 100 people attend and there were even less for the seminars.

The vote is the most controversial since China took back control of the city-state from the United Kingdom in 1997 after Beijing barred about 20 candidates for expressing pro-independence view, putting the poll under the international spotlight. This has also highlighted the Chinese Communist Party's increasing interference in Hong Kong's affair under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

Some of the election candidates attended the forums where they answered questions regarding their election platforms, covering areas such as political reform, health care, environmental issues and labor rights. But in only in one district did a pro-Beijing candidate agree to appear.

Angel Tin took part in the East New Territories forum where some 70 people attended.

"To be honest, I expected more Catholics would come," Tin, a university student, told ucanews.com. There are about 1 million voters in the geographical constituency for East New Territories.

She said that there was "more discussions about the election among Catholic university students," than among local parishioners, adding that the forum was very worthwhile to attend.

"I came to know more about different candidates at the forum and this helped me to identify whose stance is closer to the Catholic Church's teachings. And I can explain to my mum too as she is apolitical," Tin, a first time voter said.

Joe Choi, a social concern group member from St. Mary's parish, was disappointed that few people joined the forums.

"Our parishioners are very willing to donate money and do charity services. But they do not care much about social affairs," Choi told ucanews.com.

Sally Lau, a Catholic who lives in the West New Territories constituency, said that the younger Catholics were more interested in the elections.  "Young parishioners talked about the election but not the elderly ones," said Lau.

"Young parishioners talked about the election but not the elderly ones," said Lau.

Even though there was no JPC-hosted forum in her region she thought if there had been then that would of helped arouse parishioners' interest in social affairs.

JPC coordinator Chan Shu-fai admitted that it would have been more ideal to have more people come to the events.

"Except the forum for the East New Territories, others forums had no pro-Beijing candidates joining. Thus, it may be less attractive to some of the Catholics," Chan Shu-fai told ucanwews.com.

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Some Catholics who did not attend the forums said they guessed what the stance of the candidates at the events would have been.

Teresa Chan, a 40-year-old laywoman, said those who would have spoken at the events are usually like-minded people.

"They are mostly pro-democrats while others are those who oppose same-sex marriage," said Chan.

"There were also too many similar forums out there. It's just like information bombardment," she added.

Chan believed that most pro-Beijing candidates refuse to join church-run events because they understand their political stance on certain issues don't match church values.

But Chan Shu-fai argued that the forums were still worth attending as they were tailored for Catholic voters.

"Our forums provide more time to the candidates to express their idea and platforms. Even if they are mainly from the pro-democrat camp, still people can take this opportunity to understand their diversity," said Chan Shu-fai.

Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong released a pastoral letter on July 22 that urged Catholics to actively participate in the election, describing it as "an opportunity for contributing to the well-being of Hong Kong society."

 

Hong Kong politics: it's complicated

The process for the LegCo election is complicated with 35 geographical constituencies chosen via popular vote. Five potential candidates for this section were banned from the election due to their independence advocacy.

Special interest or professional groups choose 30 functional constituencies. The seats in the functional constituencies are mostly in the hand of pro-Beijing groups with 12 already elected uncontested.

Then there are five super seats, which are elected by a shortlist of district councilors.

Since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, pro-Beijing lawmakers have largely controlled the LegCo.

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