CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Church pre-election seminars get lacklustre response

HONG KONG (UCAN): Although the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in Hong Kong drew a record 1.98 million people out to the polls on September 4, a lower than usual attendance at pre-election Church-run seminars and forums may indicate a drop in interest in what the Church thinks on matters political or that parishes are politically asleep.

Although those who attended the five seminars and four forums hosted by the Justice and Peace Commission say they found them beneficial, they were surprised at the low turnout, as none of them managed to attract even 100 people.

The election was arguably the most controversial held since China took back control of the territory from the United Kingdom in 1997, as some 20 candidates were barred by returning officers for supposedly expressing a pro-independence view.

The controversy surrounding the circumstances of the seemingly random cull put the poll in the international spotlight and also highlighted what has been described as blatant interference in the electoral process by Beijing.

The few candidates who did attend the Church-run forums fielded questions on their platforms, as well as addressing topics like political reform, health care, environmental issues and labour rights. But only one pro-Beijing candidate agreed to appear at one forum.

Angel Tin joined 70 others at a forum in the East New Territories. “To be honest, I expected more Catholics would come,” the university student said.

There are about one million names on the electoral roll in the geographical constituency for East New Territories.

Tin said that she found more discussion about the election among Catholic university students than among local parishioners, but she still found the forum worthwhile.

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

Joe Choi, from a social concern group at St. Mary’s parish in Hunghom, was disappointed that so few people joined the forums. “Our parishioners are willing to donate money and do charitable services. But they do not care much about social affairs,” Choi reflected.

Sally Lau, from the West New Territories constituency, said that the younger Catholics are more interested in the elections. “Young parishioners talked about the election, but not the older ones,” Lau commented.

Even though there was no Justice and Peace-hosted forum in her region, she thought if there had been it would have helped arouse the interest of the parishioners in social affairs.

The coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, Chan Shu-fai, admitted that it would have been more ideal to have more people come to the events.

“Except for the forum for the East New Territories, others had no pro-Beijing candidates join. So it may be less attractive to some of the Catholics,” Chan said.

Some people, who did not attend the forums, said they had already guessed what the stance of the candidates at the events would be.

Teresa Chan, a 40-year-old, said those who normally speak at such events are usually like-minded people. “They are mostly pro-democrats, while others are those who oppose same-sex marriage,” she commented. “There were also too many similar forums out there. It is just like information bombardment.”

Chan believes that most pro-Beijing candidates refuse to join Church-run events, because they understand their political stance on certain issues doesn’t match up with Church values.

But Chan Shu-fai argued that the forums are still worth attending, as they are tailored to Catholic voters.

“Our forums provide more time for the candidates to express their ideas and platforms. Even if they are mainly from the pro-democrat camp, people can still take this opportunity to understand their diversity,” Chan noted.

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

The process for the LegCo election is complicated, with 35 geographical constituencies chosen through popular vote. Five potential candidates for this section were banned from the election due to what was interpreted as a pro-independence for Hong Kong content in their political platform.

Special interest or professional groups choose members for 30 functional constituencies. The seats in the functional constituencies are mostly in the hands of pro-Beijing groups with 12 standing unopposed in this year’s election.

Then there are five super seats which are voted for by everyone who does not have a vote in the functional constituencies. Candidates for the super seats are nominated by the district councillors, but must get at least 15 nominations to qualify.

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

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