Hong Kong voters cock a snook at Peking

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The Independent Online
GIVEN an opportunity to deliver their verdict on Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, the people of the territory delivered an enormous rebuff to the administration by voting overwhelmingly in favour of anti- government, pro-democracy candidates in Sunday's Legislative Council.

When the votes were counted yesterday it became clear that the pro-democracy camp had won a record 63 per cent of the popular vote, a considerable improvement on the 51 per cent it won at the last election held in 1995.

Their success in that election resulted in securing half the seats in the legislature. Under the new system employed in this election, winning some two thirds of the vote gave the pro-democracy candidates just a third of the seats.

This extraordinary outcome was achieved by using an election system which allows only a third of the seats to be chosen by the entire electorate. A small body of 800 members, mainly pro-China representatives, selects 15 per cent of the members. The remaining half of the seats are elected by tiny occupational groups and business organisations. The only two seats in this category chosen by an electorate of any size returned pro-democracy candidates.

One of the biggest vote winners was Emily Lau, an outspoken former journalist, who described the election system as "an absolute disgrace" which "makes Hong Kong a laughing stock".

Only one pro-Peking party, the working class-based Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, managed a respectable performance. The party known for its most slavish support of the Chinese government, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, did not even dare to field candidates in seats filled by the electorate.

Both the conservative Liberal Party and a smaller party which switched sides to participate in Chinese appointed bodies, were humiliated when their leaders were rejected by the voters.

Voters appear to be punishing the pro-government parties for supporting the abolition of the elected legislature, and delivering a protest vote against the government's handling of the economic downturn. Although the government won a Pyrrhic victory by ensuring that it has a majority of supporters in the new legislature, the results of the election are bound to increase pressure for greater democracy.

Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party, described the election as "a victory for Hong Kong's democracy". He said that the higher than expected turnout (53 per cent) and the result demonstrated "Hong Kong people's disappointment with the political system".

Yeung Sum, the Democrats' deputy leader, said there was no longer any excuse for postponing an extension of democracy. However, on polling day Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's Chief Executive, insisted that there was no reason to revise existing plans for a review of the election system in 2007.

As nearly all the members of the democratic camp have been elected by something like 1,000 times more votes than those in the pro-China camp, they have a far more credible mandate than their counterparts. The largest single party in the Legislative Council will be the Democratic Party.

This will create a formidable opposition to the administration. "It's the difference between a lap dog and a watchdog," said Michael DeGolyer, director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, a public opinion study.

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