HK pro-democracy parties disappointed in key vote

September 10, 2012 - 3:44 PM
Hong Kong Election

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, second right, accompanies with electoral officials, empties a ballot box at the central ballot counting station after Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Hong Kong voters cast ballots in legislative elections Sunday that will help determine the eventual shape of full democracy that Beijing has promised the former British colony. (AP Photo/Hong Kong Government Information Services, Handout)

HONG KONG (AP) — Election results released Monday gave an edge to the pro-China faction in Hong Kong's legislature, where power is split between those aligned with Beijing and those who favor further democratic reforms. The pro-democratic parties, however, retained enough of a majority to veto any proposed changes to the former British colony's constitution.

Many expected that Hong Kong's broad array of pro-democracy parties would make big gains with support from people increasingly frustrated with the semiautonomous Chinese city's new Beijing-backed leader over a wide range of issues.

Large protests over plans to introduce patriotism classes in schools forced the government to back down on Saturday, the eve of the election. But the pro-democracy camp could not capitalize on the momentum because long-running feuds and rivalries prevented it from mounting a unified strategy, politicians and analysts said.

In Sunday's election, 40 of the 70 seats on the Hong Kong Legislative Council were decided by voters, and those were split fairly evenly between the two sides, according to results released by election officials. Pro-democratic candidates won 21 seats — 18 seats in local districts and three more so-called "super seats" open to nearly all voters city wide. Pro-Beijing rivals won 19 seats — 17 local seats and two super seats.

The other 30 seats on the council were chosen by members of business and special interest groups known as "functional constituencies," most of which are dominated by pro-Beijing figures. Results showed that pro-democracy candidates won only six of those seats, news reports said.

Still, pro-democracy candidates will retain 27 of the 70 seats, more than the minimum 24 needed for veto power on constitutional issues, the most contentious of which is the eventual introduction of full democracy. Beijing has pledged to allow Hong Kong residents to choose their leader by 2017 and all lawmakers by 2020, although no roadmap has yet been laid out. The newly elected lawmakers will help set up those elections.

Disappointed supporters blamed a splintering of the many parties that comprise the pro-democracy camp for the lack of a strategy against their pro-Beijing rivals, who had more resources to use Hong Kong's complex electoral system to their advantage.

Albert Ho, chairman of the main Democratic Party, apologized and resigned.

"Our party will certainly learn from this failure," he said. "We'll have a deep reflection and then work out our plan for reform in the future."

The election drew a strong turnout, with 53 percent of the territory's 3.5 million registered voters casting ballots, 8 percentage points higher than in the last election in 2008. That shows a strong desire for political reform among residents in the semiautonomous region, as well as discontent with the city's Beijing-backed leader, analysts said.

"The higher voter turnout reflects the people's frustrations with the C.Y. Leung administration," said Willy Lam, a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong. The high turnout reflects public unease over the government's aborted plan to introduce Chinese patriotism classes that many feared would be a form of brainwashing, Lam said.

The dispute "galvanized ordinary people to take part in politics, and this is something which the C.Y. Leung administration has to bear in mind because now more people are getting educated and politicized," he said.

Leung Chun-ying, also known as C.Y. Leung, became Hong Kong's leader, or chief executive, in July after being picked by an elite pro-Beijing committee.

Hong Kong, a freewheeling Asian financial center, was handed back to China in 1997 after a century of British rule, but it was granted a high degree of autonomy and allowed to keep its separate political system.

Sunday's vote was the first in which the public had a say in more than half of who was elected. Previously, the Legislative Council had 60 seats evenly split between publicly elected lawmakers and functional constituencies. The 10 new seats added this year are part of political reforms introduced in line with provisions in Hong Kong's mini-constitution as a step toward full democracy.

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Online: http://www.elections.gov.hk/legco2012

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