China party fares well in Hong Kong election

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IN ITS first real electoral trial of strength, Hong Kong's main pro-Peking political party has fared better than expected in local elections, although it lagged well behind the largest pro-democracy party.

After the final results were tallied yesterday, the pro-Peking Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) had won 37 of the 346 district board seats, which for the first time were all open for election. Tsang Yok-sing, the party leader, said: 'I think we're quite satisfied with the result. There have been no big surprises.' Chinese-controlled newspapers appealed to voters to support the 'patriots', despite Peking's commitment to scrap electoral bodies when sovereignty reverts to China in mid-1997.

The largest pro-democracy party, an alliance between the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK) and Meeting Point, enjoyed greatest success, taking 77 seats. With more competition this year, its candidates had a harder fight than in the 1991 local polls. But Martin Lee, the head of the UDHK, said he was 'very happy' with the result. A smaller democratic party, The Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, took 29 seats.

Faring worst was the business-backed Liberal Party, which won only 19 seats, despite contesting 90. The Liberals strongly opposed the electoral reform plans of the Governor, Chris Patten, but lacked the grass-roots strength of the DAB. Various independent candidates won about half the seats.

Local issues dominated the elections to Hong Kong's lowest tier of government. A survey by the University of Hong Kong for Ming Pao newspaper showed 67 per cent opposed Peking's plan to scrap the new electoral system. Two-thirds said the mainland's disapproval made no difference to their vote.

At DAB headquarters, Mr Tsang said: 'I don't think people go to the polls to vote for or against Patten's package.' Nor did the DAB's vote appear to have suffered from the revelation that Mr Tsang had once applied to emigrate to Canada, despite his party's stated confidence in future rule by China.

The turn-out was an important issue in Mr Patten's battle with Peking over democracy. The Governor pointed to a 63 per cent increase in the total number of votes cast, to more than 693,000. But other commentators said that the 33.1 per cent turn-out was a failure, after the Hong Kong government's expensive campaign to encourage people to take part in the polls. About 50 seats were returned uncontested.