Pro-Democracy Party Suffers Setbacks in Hong Kong Elections

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Hong Kong's pro-democracy party was dealt a major blow Monday after it barely managed to win more seats than its pro-Beijing rivals in the territory's first local elections under Chinese rule. The polls for the 18 district councils were seen as a test of how political factions have fared since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in July 1997.

Overall, the key opposition Democratic Party won marginally more seats than its main foe, the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, or DAB. Wire service reports say it was the first time the Democrats failed to score a landslide victory in a popular election. Several party heavyweights also suffered surprise defeats. "Many of us lost by rather wide margins. This has sounded an alarm,'' said lawmaker Yeung Sum, vice chairman and chief campaign organizer of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party won 86 of the 390 seats, while the DAB took 83. In 1994, the Democrats won 75 seats to the DAB's 37. Pro-business groups and independents won the rest of the seats that were up for popular election.

Another 27 village heads are guaranteed seats in the rural district councils, and Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa will appoint 102 members. The partial appointment system ensures that pro-Beijing forces will have majority control in the district councils. About 36 percent of 2.3 million registered voters cast ballots in Sunday's polls for the local councils, which advise the government on such matters as the environment and infrastructure.