Rights Lawyer in Hong Kong Poll Bid

Election is widely believed to be controlled by Beijing.
2012-02-15
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Albert Ho (C) speaks near the Registration and Electoral Office in Hong Kong, Feb. 14, 2012.
Eyepress News

Rights lawyer and pro-democracy politician Albert Ho has thrown his hat into the ring as campaigning began this week in the race to become Hong Kong's chief executive, despite acknowledging publicly that the job will never be his.

Democratic Party chairman Ho was the first candidate to register his candidacy on Tuesday in the fourth contest for Hong Kong's top job since the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule in 1997, a process that is strongly weighted in favor of Beijing-backed candidates.

Ho said Hong Kong's democratic camp, which elected him as candidate through a universal ballot of all permanent residents in January, had fielded a candidate to challenge key contenders Henry Tang and C.Y. Leung, both of whom are considered acceptable to Beijing, although Tang is believed to be preferred.

Tang has already served in several high-ranking posts in the Hong Kong government in recent years, including the number-two job of Chief Secretary, which he resigned last year after announcing his candidacy.

Leung, a real estate businessman and former convener of the territory's cabinet, the Executive Council, also serves on the National Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the advisory arm of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

The outcome of Hong Kong's chief executive poll is widely believed to be settled behind closed doors by a small circle of powerful officials, business leaders and political figures.

"A closed-circle election is one that is controllable by Beijing," Ho told RFA's Mandarin service. "Actually, the result of this election has already been determined by [the ruling Chinese Communist Party.]"

Challenge

But he said Hong Kong's democratic politicians, who enjoy broad popular support and form a sizeable minority in the territory's legislature, needed to rise to the challenge nonetheless.

"I think we should grasp this opportunity to take issue with injustice through every available channel," said Ho, whose vocal campaigning on behalf of dissidents and rights activists inside China has made it impossible for him to get the necessary documentation to travel to the mainland.

He said there were a number of issues involving Hong Kong's "core values" that needed debating by a democratic candidate as well as the current pro-Beijing political elite.

"They include academic freedom, freedom of expression and democracy...[including] direct elections for the post of chief executive," Ho said.

Under the terms of its handover from British rule, Hong Kong has been promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.

But journalists fear that media organizations in the territory may nevertheless be highly susceptible to self-censorship, for fear of angering powerful corporations or high-ranking officials in mainland China.

Hong Kong has seen a number of outspoken radio personalities depart from key talk shows in the years since the handover of sovereignty to Beijing, while China's own dissidents in exile have repeatedly been denied permission to enter the territory, which administers its own immigration controls.

Frustrated

The city's residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with Beijing’s approach to governing the territory, saying the central government is dragging its feet on commitments made during the territory’s handover.

Only half of Hong Kong's lawmakers are elected, while the remainder are drawn from district legislators and functional constituencies which favor the territory's business communities and pro-China groups.

Beijing has said there will be no transition to full democracy for Hong Kong until 2020, citing "political immaturity."

Ho said many people would expect a certain level of debate on such key issues, although the final ballot on March 25 will be cast by an election committee of just 1,200 people, or around 0.01 percent of Hong Kong's population.

"These are all very weighty questions, and [Tang and Leung] don't dare to discuss them," Ho said.

"I will certainly be standing up and calling them out on these sensitive topics."

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.