Monday, December 29, 1997

Hong Kong is less
democratic now

A recent visitor from Hong Kong told a luncheon audience here that the Chinese government is keeping its hands off the former British colony with regard to freedom of speech and press. Protest demonstrations and newspaper reports critical of Beijing are still being tolerated in Hong Kong although they are forbidden in China proper.

Eden Woon, director of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, who is also a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, gave an upbeat account of the state of civil liberties since the July 1 turnover to China, while acknowledging that Hong Kong's economy has felt the effects of the turmoil in East Asia.

However, when it comes to elections, it's a different story. On Dec. 8 an election was held to select Hong Kong's delegates to China's national parliament, the National People's Congress. Most of the candidates and almost all of the 36 winners were also members of the electoral college that cast the votes, all of whom were appointed by China.

Leading the vote-getters was Jiang Enzhu, China's chief representative in Hong Kong as head of the official Xinhua news agency. Jiang arrived in Hong Kong only last August. He'll make some representative of Hong Kong's people! Not that the exercise has any meaning. China is no parliamentary democracy and the congress has no real power.

The same kind of closed procedure was used in choosing Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, last year, although Tung is no newcomer and has strong qualifications.

Next May elections for the Hong Kong legislative council will be held. Forty of the 60 seats will be filled by professional interest groups and only 20 by the general electorate. The government also raised the limit on campaign spending, which is expected to help business-supported parties and hurt the Democrats, who have been critical of Chinese rule.

Of course, British rule of Hong Kong wasn't democratic either for the most part. Only with the arrival of the last governor, Chris Patten, in the closing years of the British administration was an attempt made to make the legislative council more democratic. China, however, would have none of it and dismissed the elected council when it took over.

The difference is that under Britain individual rights were fully respected, and there is still considerable doubt whether China will follow that policy. So far, it seems to be -- but for how long?

New names on ballot

STATE Sen. Mike McCartney's decision not to seek re-election in 1998, and his announcement early enough to give candidates an opportunity to strategize campaigns, are a gift from a pol in the true spirit of the season. If only more longtime politicians, who have done a lot of good for their constituencies over the years, would take a cue from McCartney and give political newcomers an opportunity to bring their fresh ideas and renewed energy to the halls of government.

Windward residents in the 23rd District (Kaneohe-Kahuku) got a decade of dedicated representation from the 38-year-old senator. At the state Capitol, he cultivated the reputation as a tireless facilitator and mediator in the often tumultuous goings-on both in session and behind closed doors.

Although political associates and supporters urged a continuation of his government work, McCartney thinks 10 years is about the right amount of time to serve as a lawmaker. Amen.

Like most legislators, McCartney has outside business interests that he can cultivate to earn a full-time living, thereby giving someone else -- hopefully, a political neophyte -- a shot at running this state. Even if a sitting representative runs for and wins McCartney's Senate post, that still means a vacancy over in the House.

It's tough to unseat an incumbent, even with unprecedented voter unrest that ousted three powerful senators in the last go-around. McCartney's decision not to run for re-election is a sign that the Legislature may be a step closer to being comprised of a more balanced mix of experienced lawmakers and enthusiastic newcomers.

Massacre in Mexico

THE massacre of 45 Indian villagers in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is a bloody reminder that Mexico's political stability is fragile. The slaughter is being blamed on a pro-government paramilitary force.

It comes nearly four years after the so-called Zapatista rebels rose up in Chiapas in January 1994. Since then villagers in the impoverished state have aligned themselves with either the ruling party or the rebels. Clashes between the two sides have claimed at least 300 lives.

President Ernesto Zedillo has condemned the massacre and called for renewed peace talks with the rebels. However, Zapatista leaders have blamed Zedillo for the bloodshed, accusing the government of talking peace while arming paramilitary groups.

Authorities charged the mayor of the municipality with organizing the massacre. Investigators said Jacinto Arias Cruz, mayor of Chenalho, provided the weapons used, then tried to cover up the killings in the nearby village of Acteal. Investigators are pressing officials to explain why they failed to stop the massacre, although they were alerted wh ile it was in progress.

The emergence of the Zapatista rebels, claiming to seek improvements in the life of the Indian peasants, helped trigger a collapse of the Mexican economy, from which it has largely recovered. But this grisly crime invokes the old image of Mexico as a violent, unstable country -- a far cry from the picture the government would like to present to the world.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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