22 October 2016
Paul Kwong of the Anglican Church said it would be irresponsible for church leaders to give up their 10 seats in the election committee. Photo: Xinhua
Paul Kwong of the Anglican Church said it would be irresponsible for church leaders to give up their 10 seats in the election committee. Photo: Xinhua

Why it makes sense to give up the election committee seats

It’s good for the leader of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong to remind the people that they still have a way to voice out their demand for a truly democratic way of electing their next leader, which is to give up their seats in the small-circle election committee that will choose the next chief executive in March next year.

The Most Reverend Paul Kwong of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui said it would be “irresponsible” for the representatives of the church to give up their 10 seats in the committee as a way of opposing the absence of genuine universal suffrage in the 2017 election, noting that there are other representatives who want to exercise their right and join the exercise.

Kwong, who is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday: “I think all chief executives love Hong Kong and do not want to destroy our city, so there is no problem as to who takes the chief executive job.”

But is it really irresponsible to give up the 10 seats assigned to the church? (Actually, 10 seats are allotted for each of the six major religions in the city.)

The answer to the question depends on one’s political stance.

For pro-democracy Christians, the answer is, “Why not?” It’s only 10 seats out of the 1,200 members of the election committee.

Leaving the seats vacant would be an emphatic and unequivocal signal to Beijing and Hong Kong authorities that the Christian church refuses to lend credibility to a farcical election that represents the interest of tycoons rather than that of the poor and the underprivileged.

However, the conservative Christians, including Paul Kwong, are looking at the issue from the viewpoint of the authorities.

They want to participate in such an election because they think the government is recognizing their importance in society, that they are a part of the small circle, the elite that has the power to choose the person who will occupy the highest office in the city.

But the sad truth is that they are being used by the government to legitimize the system that deprives ordinary people of the right to choose their leader.

That said, it is quite difficult for the Christian Council, the organization responsible for choosing the 10 representatives to the election committee, to reach a consensus on whether or not to give up the 10 seats.

On Tuesday night the council announced that it will hold a public consultation on April 17 to listen to the views of church members on the issue.

Christians are supposed to base their actions and beliefs on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. But when it comes to political issues, there is a great variance in the views and interpretations of Christians.

Reverend Yuen Tin-Yau, one of the first Christian leaders who initiated the debate over the 10 committee seats, argued that it won’t be irresponsible if the Christian Council decides not to select 10 members for the committee, as the government could have its own way of choosing the 10 representatives through other Christian organizations.

That won’t deprive other Christians of their right to participate in the committee, so there is nothing “irresponsible” if the council arrives at such a decision, contrary to Kwong’s position.

Yuen, who expressed sympathies for the Occupy protesters in 2014, did not hide his own position on the issue, which is to give up the 10 seats as a way of pushing the campaign for democracy and genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Yuen said the current electoral mechanism is unfair because there is no reason why people belonging to the six major religions in the city can be represented in the committee on top of the other Hong Kong people.

He also argued that the process of selecting the 10 representatives is far from popular because the majority of Christians do not even know they have representatives in the election committee, let alone know their identities.

Given that there are more questions raised than answered about the issue, it won’t be a bad idea to give up the 10 seats to show the sense of discontent and anger among Christians over the unjust and unfair electoral mechanism.

For a long time, Hong Kong churches have tried to avoid a candid discussion of political issues because church leaders don’t want to cause a rift among followers.

But such discussions are part of the exercise of democracy; people must be given the chance to speak out and be heard. 

The Church is unified under Christ, not through an artificial sense of harmony where the official view is imposed on followers and dissenting views are suppressed.

So the suggestion for the Christian church to give up the 10 seats in an election committee that is unfair and undemocratic should be viewed as part of the campaign for genuine universal suffrage.

Christians, sometimes labeled as conservatives because of their passive stance on important political and social issues, should speak up for the future of Hong Kong.

Leaving the 10 seats allotted for the Christian subsector vacant would fuel the democratic movement in Hong Kong and expose the 2017 chief executive election as a sham.

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EJ Insight writer

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