Beijing set for 'bloody nose' in Hong Kong poll

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The Independent Online

Tomorrow, some 3.2 million voters head to the polls in Hong Kong in an election that pundits predict could deliver a bloody nose to pro-Beijing politicians in the former British colony.

Tomorrow, some 3.2 million voters head to the polls in Hong Kong in an election that pundits predict could deliver a bloody nose to pro-Beijing politicians in the former British colony.

After a bitter campaign during which Beijing has pulled out all the stops to encourage voters to embrace the advantages of keeping close ties to the mainland's Communist leadership, the latest polls indicate pro-democracy candidates could win between 22 and 28 of the 30 seats in the 60-seat assembly. But democracy in Hong Kong has its limits. The other 30 seats will be filled by politicians nominated by a limited selection of professional groups expected to heavily favour pro-Beijing candidates.

But Beijing is well aware of the public relations damage inflicted by an overwhelming vote for pro-democracy candidates. Last week, it flew in members of the successful Olympic team who gave exhibitions in their sports and put on a song and dance show. That was the carrot. The stick was the arrest and sentencing, without trial, of Alex Ho. a prominent pro-democracy candidate to six months of "re-education" after he was caught with a prostitute on the mainland.

In a report released on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said an intimidation campaign was underway to undermine the pro-democracy opposition. "Politicians, journalists and voters have faced political intimidation and criminal threats, much of it apparently emanating from Beijing with the aim of skewing election results to favour pro-Beijing candidates," the group said in a statement.

It cited threatening phone calls and letters, saying some voters had called radio programmes, claiming to have been pressured to vote for pro-Beijing candidates. There were also allegations that voters were being pressured to take pictures of their completed ballot papers on their mobile phones to prove how they had voted.

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