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The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Several recent scandals have helped polarise the political parties"
 real 28k

Saturday, 9 September, 2000, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Discontent clouds Hong Kong poll
Street campaigner
Campaigners are having a hard time raising interest
By Damian Grammaticas in Hong Kong

The vote for new members of Hong Kong's Legislative Assembly takes place against a backdrop of growing discontent - unemployment is at record levels, and many people are struggling to get by.

Lun Ban
Like many in Hong Kong Lun Ban says he wants more democracy
In the Choiwan Wet Market, Lun Ban is buying the evening meal for his family: a bag of Chinese cabbage and two small fish. Since the Asian economic crisis three years ago, he's fallen on hard times.

The printing factory where he worked for 40 years closed and his job was taken by cheaper labour across the border in mainland China.

Now Mr Lun works as a part-time security guard, and he's seen his salary drop from more than $1,000 a month to just $250. With his wife and three children, he's had to move to a two-room flat.

Roadworks
Hong Kong's economy is showing signs of recovery ...
He has little faith that his vote will lead to any change.

"There is only a small chance that I will even bother to vote," Mr Lun says.

"The Legislative Council doesn't have any power to do anything. And I don't really like any of the candidates. So I might just cast a blank vote instead."

Half an hour away, in the centre of Hong Kong, workers are digging up roads and building new skyscrapers.

Struggling businesses

The territory's economy is beginning to pick up - but the benefits are going to the rich, not the poor, and even the middle classes are still hurting.

Market
... but for many ordinary people the effects of the economic crisis are still hurting
The value of their properties is down and their businesses still struggling.

Three years after Hong Kong's handover to China, Professor Suni Lo, of Hong Kong University, says many feel alienated from their government.

"The general mood of the voters is that many Hong Kong people are very unhappy with the post-colonial situation," Professor Suni says.

"They're unhappy because of all the chaos, because of all the maladministration and very controversial policies.

'Popular discontent'

"In particular, the middle class professionals - including civil servants, teachers - are very dissatisfied," the professor adds.

LegCo building
Only 24 out of the 60-seat Legislative Assembly are directly elected
There's also growing frustration at the system itself.

Less than half the seats in the Legislative Council are directly elected. The remainder are reserved for interests allied to business or to Beijing.

The body's main role is to debate and to scrutinise - real power is in the hands of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his Cabinet - none of whom is directly elected.

Outdated system

Christine Loh
Legislator Christine Loh says she is quitting an outdated institution
Legislative Councillor Christine Lo is disillusioned with the whole process and feels she can achieve more outside the political set-up.

"I think we're beginning to realise ... that all these decisions that are taken about every aspect of our lives are actually being taken within a political context that is now outdated.

"So I think actually there's going to be a growing groundswell, calling for really fundamental change," she adds.

Protest
A growing number of Hong Kong's middle class are dissatisfied
Back in Mr Lun's tiny kitchen, the fish are being fried for dinner.

Once a Communist revolutionary, Mr Lun was jailed by the British when they ruled Hong Kong in the 1960s.

Today, he says, what he wants is more democracy.

"I think if Hong Kong was run in a more democratic way, it would be good for people," he says. "In a democratic country everybody can participate."

In the meantime, Lun Ban says, he sees little hope for his future.

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See also:

07 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Academics quit over HK polls scandal
07 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
HK Chief in opinion polls row
30 Jun 98 | Asia-Pacific
Clouds over Hong Kong anniversary
29 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong leans towards Beijing
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