Grass-Roots Elections to Test Patten's Hong Kong Reforms Vote Pits Pro-Democracy Groups against Pro-Chinese Camp

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GRASS-ROOTS elections in Hong Kong planned for Sunday are testing British democratic reforms and Chinese political control in the crown colony.

Although issues such as bus fares and garbage pickup will most directly affect voters, the election of 346 district board members will be the first poll held under Britain's more-democratic rules, which were nudged through the Hong Kong legislature in July by British Gov. Chris Patten and will help shape Hong Kong's political future, colony analysts say.

The vote is being viewed by Hong Kong political parties as a test-run for legislative elections in 1995, and in a number of areas is pitting pro-Chinese candidates against those favoring political reforms.

As a result of the Patten changes, the elected district board members will send 10 of their colleagues to sit on the 1995 legislature, enhancing the political significance of Sunday's vote.

Ironically, China is urging its backers to participate in the election despite its vociferous attempts to block the Patten reform package. It has pledged to scuttle the current political structure when Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule in July 1997.

In late August, the nominal Chinese parliament voted unanimously to terminate political institutions set up by the British.

Still, China cannot be seen to marginalize itself since voters are not being swayed by the Chinese threats, analysts say. Hong Kong political observers predict about one-third of the colony's 2.5 million registered voters will participate.

According to a survey of 6,400 voters by the Social Science Research Center of Hong Kong University, published yesterday, 78 percent of the respondents said they would not be deterred by China's pledge to dismantle the British political structure. The survey predicted that pro-democracy parties are likely to get the largest number of board seats, although up to 50 percent of the slots could be captured by independents.

"China can't afford to sit on the sidelines and not try to shape future events," says Lau Siu-kai, a member of a Hong Kong advisory board for the Beijing government.

The vote coincides with the Hong Kong visit of British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who arrived yesterday. Facing new obstacles to finalizing transition issues with China, Mr. Hurd will consult with Mr. Patten and other British officials in Hong Kong to draw up a strategy for upcoming meetings with Chinese officials.

Hurd is scheduled to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen later this month during the upcoming session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. …